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Viewpoint: Unfair airfares

This page highlights efforts by Consumers Union to improve the marketplace

Published: July 2014
Photo: Getty Images

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Unfair airfares

The issue: It’s becoming more and more difficult to determine the bottom-line cost of airline tickets because of the recent onslaught of fees, such as charges for carry-on baggage (thanks, Frontier Airlines!). Worse yet, a new bill in Congress would allow carriers to quote you ticket prices that are significantly lower than what you’ll ultimately be charged.

Our take: It’s time to ground the ironically titled Transparent  Airfares  Act of 2014. The bill stipulates that mandatory taxes and fees levied by federal, state, and local governments, as well as airport authorities, wouldn’t have to be disclosed until the end of the booking process.

Thankfully, the Department of Transportation proposed new rules in May that would force airlines to be more forthcoming. If finalized, carriers would have to disclose add-on fees for such services as checked baggage at all points of sale, which we think is badly needed.

If transparency is really what the airline industry is after, we’re all for it. For now, we’ll keep fighting against its misleading actions. Check ConsumersUnion.org for updates.

Web watch

The Federal Communications Commission may allow Internet service providers to charge websites for preferential treatment, creating fast and slow lanes for Internet traffic. Companies with deep pockets would have to pay to upgrade Internet speeds, but scrappy start-ups may not be able to afford it. Before the FCC makes its decision, the agency wants to hear from you. E-mail your take to openinternet@fcc.gov. The agency will be accepting comments through the summer and hopes to have a final rule that incorporates the public response ready by the end of 2014.

For more, read "FCC Should Support an Open Internet" and "Why You Should Be Upset at the FCC’s Proposed Changes to Net Neutrality."

Is Kickstarter safe?

In what is the first consumer-protection lawsuit involving crowdfunding, Washington’s attorney general has taken action against a company that raised $25,000 through Kickstarter but has failed to deliver anything to its backers.

Crowdfunding allows people to secure financing for their initiatives from a large pool of backers, often in exchange for incentives. In this case, consumers pledged funds to help print and market playing cards and other items featuring artwork by a Serbian artist. In turn, each donor would receive a deck of cards, the artist’s sketches, or similar rewards—a promise that must be honored under Kickstarter’s terms of use. (The site isn’t part of the lawsuit.) But the company behind the project, Altius Management, hasn’t delivered any rewards or refunds to its 810 backers, including at least 31 from Washington.

“Consumers need to be aware that crowdfunding is not without risk,” said state Attorney General Bob Ferguson.

$20.8 billion

That’s the estimated average amount spent on unneeded medical care in Massachusetts in 2012, according to the state’s Health Policy Commission. Such spending often results in poorer outcomes. For advice on avoiding unnecessary care, go to ConsumerHealthChoices.org.

Editor's Note: This article also appeared in the August 2014 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.
   

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