The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) today fined ticket agent TripAdvisor $80,000 for violating the Department's rules on full-fare advertising, the first penalty for violating the Department's new airline price advertising requirements that took effect in January, as well as for failing to disclose that flights were being operated under code-sharing agreements. The company was also ordered to cease and desist from further violations.
"Air travelers have the right to know how much they'll have to pay for a ticket and which airline will be operating their flight," U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said. "We will continue to make sure that carriers and ticket agents disclose this important information to consumers."
DOT requires all advertisements that include airfares to state the entire price to be paid by the consumer. Prior to a rule that took effect Jan. 26, advertised fares were not required to include certain government-imposed taxes as long as these additional fees were clearly disclosed in the ad, but under the new rule all government taxes and fees must be incorporated into the fare. Taxes that are included in the advertised fare may also be listed separately or through links or pop-ups, but these listings may not be displayed as prominently, or in the same or larger size font, as the total price. An investigation by the Department's Aviation Enforcement Office found that from at least March 2012 through June 2012, the total fares displayed on TripAdvisor's website were not displayed more prominently than the base fares, which did not include taxes and fees. When consumers entered specific itineraries, TripAdvisor returned lists of flights that displayed base fares in front of and in the same font size as the total fares. The rule applies to ticket agents as well as air carriers.
The Department also found that TripAdvisor failed to comply with DOT's code-share disclosure rules. Under a code-sharing arrangement, an airline sells tickets on flights that use its designator code, but are operated by another airline. DOT rules require airlines and ticket agents to disclose to consumers, before they book a flight, if the flight is operated under a code-sharing arrangement. The disclosure must include the corporate name of the transporting carrier and any other name under which the flight is offered to the public. Under a new law, when tickets are purchased on the Internet, code-share information must be easily viewable on the first display of a website following a search for flights corresponding to a desired itinerary. From at least March through June 2012, TripAdvisor failed to display the corporate names or other names being used by regional carriers providing transportation on behalf of a major airline. Consumers had to rely on a hover text feature to learn the identity of the airline that would actually operate the aircraft on which they would be flying.
The consent order is available on the Internet at www.regulations.gov, docket DOT-OST-2012-0002.