Thursday, October 15, 2009

Correction: It's a holiday surcharge.

Two weeks ago, I blasted the airlines for imposing what I understood to be a fee for travel on certain days defined as holiday time. At the time, I said that using add-on fees to avoid raising fares was inexcusable.

I stand by that notion, but it turns out that what the airlines have put in place are holiday surcharges, not fees -- and the difference matters.

A fee is an add-on. Passengers pay fees to check bags, buy drinks, and sometimes to access preferred seating. Fees are costs added to what would otherwise be bottom-line prices.

Surcharges are different. Under the Airline Deregulation Act, airlines in the United States have to publish their fares in advance, and changing published fares for just a few days can be complicated. The FAA allows airlines to use surcharges as costs included in the bottom-line prices shown for tickets.

I was angry about a "holiday fee" because I believe that traveling on a certain day should be part of the bottom line. But surcharge is entirely transparent to passengers, and the ticket price you see includes any applicable surcharges.

It still means higher fares. But there's nothing shady about raising fares in times of short supply (like holidays). That's how competition works, and if you compare the fares we have today -- even with the $10 surcharge for holiday travel included -- with the fares we had in 1960, well... competition has really made flying cheap.

So, I don't see these surcharges as a problem.

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