The Radius consortium complained to the Transportation Department that the government discriminated against traditional travel agents and gave an “unfair advantage” to Orbitz and other online sites by allowing them to state their service fees separately from air fares.
A DOT exemption enables Orbitz to skirt a requirement that travel sellers quote “the entire price to be paid” for air travel, including the travel seller`s own ticketing and service fees (taxes may be excluded).
Radius told the DOT that it is unfair to require traditional agents to adhere to this practice while allowing Orbitz and other online sites to display the fare and then explain the service fee later in the transaction.
Radius said the Orbitz exemption should be extended to all travel sellers, online and off.
“If the department is not prepared to treat all travel agencies in an equal manner, then no travel agency should be allowed to list service fees [separately],” Radius said.
The DOT, as reported, issued the exemption to Orbitz in December after the airline-owned travel service added a $5 service charge for airline bookings.
In seeking the exemption, Orbitz said consumers would be better off if its service fees were listed separately because shoppers could more easily compare low-fare quotes from different distribution channels.
The DOT agreed to allow the “unbundling” of service fees, but only for online agencies.
It also imposed conditions requiring a prominent notice about fees on the “first page” of the Web site and clear disclosure of the fees elsewhere in the booking path.
Orbitz, meanwhile, is defending itself against claims by Travelocity that it violated those conditions by using “vague” language.
Travelocity also alleged Orbitz failed to include the proper notice in Orbitz fare displays that pop up through software provided by Comet Systems, a comparative shopping service.
But Orbitz reminded the DOT that the language on its Web site already has been reviewed by the DOT enforcement office.
As for the Comet service, Orbitz said the software was rolled out before the DOT exemption but was updated recently to include the appropriate notice about service fees.
Travelocity also had asked the DOT to require an additional notice on the Orbitz site that all fares are available for less (i.e., without a service fee) directly from the airlines.
Orbitz dismissed that suggestion as “a transparent effort by Travelocity to redesign the Web site of a competitor,” and said the DOT should not allow itself to be “drawn into this unsavory agenda.”