As I wrote about extensively in today's Aviation Daily (subscriber only), Tripadvisor.com launched a flight search tool that gives users the ability to compare and rank airline prices that include not only fares, but also fees for services such as checked bags and in-flight food and beverages. (It also takes into account your frequent flyer status with an airline, which can negate some of the checked bag fees.)
Here's a screen shot of the type of how the site's "fees estimator" works, and what you'll see when the fees are incorporated into the flight rankings.
This Tripadvisor.com "fees estimator," which like the entire flight search function is being offered in its beta testing mode, is not perfect or all-inclusive. There is nothing in it, for example, to account for the fees some airlines will charge for selecting a preferred or roomier seat (or even an assigned seat for some carriers). But as I wrote in my story, Amadeus, Sabre and ITA Software all could go live with automated fee-incorporating flight searches before the end of this year, assuming that the airlines and the Airline Tariffs Publishing Co. work out a standardized fee reporting system that the automated software can make use of. (The CEO of ATPCO told me good progress has been made and he's hopeful such a system will be implemented this year).
Airlines stand to benefit from such a system to the extent they can sell and upsell during the booking process, but I still think they are underestimating the impact that the full transparency of their fees for cost comparisons could have on consumer behavior. I've brought this up before, but perhaps they have some amnesia about the impact the Internet-driven pricing transparency had on their ability to maintain wide discrepancies between the lowest and highest fares and between their fares and the fares of their low-cost competitors. In that context, Southwest, which has shunned many of the new fees, would seem to stand to gain the most from full-price comparisons. But there's one big flaw in that theory: that difference would show up on GDS flight searches but Southwest, by choice, is not available on most online agencies
In any case, I think this is a development that bears watching.
But here's something I think has gotten much more attention than I think it warrants: Spirit imposing a "passenger usage fee," as of yesterday, for bookings done anywhere other than its airport ticket counter (that means it applies both to bookings by phone and its own website). Several news stories and blog postings reported the $4.90-each-way fee as if it is unheard of for an airline to charge a customer just for booking, but as even one of those bloggers noted, most airlines already charge for booking by phone and have done so for quite some time (in fact, although he does not mention it, those fees usually are signficantly higher than Spirit's new fee). The difference here is that Spirit is charging for bookings via its website, which is supposed to be a cheaper distribution method for carriers. Allegiant, however, already does the same thing. Spirit's problem is probably labeling. Calling something a "passenger usage fee" is just odd. Also, a Spirit spokeswoman defended the fee by comparing it to the convenience fees charged by Ticketmaster. Bad idea. The public (myself included) hates Ticketmaster because of those fees.