Think you know what your airline ticket costs? Not so fast.
Taxes and fees on airline tickets can add a bundle to that advertised price. For overseas travel, add-ons can nearly double the cost of a ticket.
One $324 round-trip fare from New York to London costs $657 once all the taxes and fees are included.
The price on one nonstop round-trip ticket from Atlanta to San Francisco goes from $350 to $377 with taxes and fees. A different offer, a one-stop fare to the same destination, looks like the better deal at $331. But once taxes and fees are calculated, it's actually $2 more -- with an almost four-hour layover.
Bottom line: Look at the total price of a ticket,
not merely the fare. And pay attention to those itinerary details.
"The most dreaded symbol in airline ads is the
asterisk," says Peter Greenberg, author of "The Travel
Detective: How to Get the Best Service and the Best Deals from Airlines,
Hotels, Cruise Ships and Car Rental Agencies." "Because
you know it's not going to be beneficial to you."
In many cases, the airlines don't set the fees and don't
make a dime from them. ..."
These days, many airlines and online ticket sellers include both the fares and the total ticket price (with taxes and fees) well in advance of that "buy" button. Likewise, reservations clerks with airlines and ticket sellers often will advise you of the complete total before you give your credit card number.
In many cases, the airlines don't set the fees and don't make a dime from them. Often the levies are excise taxes that cover the cost of running the air transit system, including maintaining air traffic control, operating airports and inspecting planes.
Other taxes pay for airport security, customs and immigration services. One fee, set by the airports, helps pay for airport upkeep and expansion.
Some airlines impose fees for certain services, such as requesting a paper ticket or booking by phone instead of online. Some carriers also will add fuel surcharge fees on certain flights.
Including that fuel fee with federally and locally mandated taxes, instead of folding it into the ticket price, galls some consumer advocates.
"It allows them to advertise cheap fares that don't exist," says Clark Howard, nationally syndicated radio host and co-author of "Get Clark Smart: The Ultimate Guide to Getting Rich from America's Money-Saving Expert."
One industry insider says the surcharge is a smart marketing strategy that also gives consumers more information.
From a passenger point of view, a fuel surcharge is "just a fare increase," says John Heimlich, vice president and chief economist for the Air Transport Association, an airline industry trade group.