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If you’re searching for flights departing from or sold in the United States, you’ll be comforted to know that you’re protected by a US Department of Transportation regulation that bans false or misleading advertising. The rule also applies to flights sold elsewhere by US-based carriers, and governs (1) advertised prices for airfare, (2) advertising for one-way fares, and (3) the use of the term “free” in airfare ads.
In essence, the US Department of Transportation airfare advertising rule states that the price you’re shown for flights must include all fees and taxes (a concept sometimes referred to as “all-in”). Charges that are included in the total price may be listed separately, but they can’t be false, misleading, or displayed prominently in relation to the advertised total price. The regulation covers only those costs that you’re required to pay to get on the plane and fly – not optional fees like those for checked bags or seat upgrades.
In addition, airlines may not advertise fares as one-way fares if a round-trip ticket purchase is required to obtain the advertised price. Again, this is because all mandatory fees and charges are required to be displayed the first time a price is shown to the consumer.
Finally, the Department of Transportation issued guidance that flights that are advertised as free must be just that – completely without charge to the purchaser. If the airline waives their carrier charges, for example, but the offer requires the consumer to pay taxes, the ad can’t state that the flight is “free”. It can, however, say something like “free of carrier charges”.
To report a violation, you can contact the US Department of Transportation.
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