NEWARK, NJ – U.S. Senator Bob Menendez today urged the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to investigate the unfair and deceptive practices by large airlines after they each changed their disclosure practices last month for multi-city itineraries. In some cases, air travelers who visit multiple destinations are charged hundreds of dollars more when they book round-trip versus one-way fares for the same exact flights.

“That makes no sense. You’re riding the same plane, with the same crew, using the same amount of jet fuel, even sitting in the same seat. It shouldn’t cost hundreds of dollars more,” said Sen. Menendez during a news conference in his Newark office. “It seems to me that the nation’s big airlines are working in concert to deceive and cheat the flying public. Consumers are fed up with an airline industry—blinded in the pursuit of higher profits—that will try any dollar-driven gimmick to make air travel less comfortable and more expensive every day.”

The Senator sent a letter today to U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, calling on his agency to probe the carriers’ price disclosure policies to ensure customers are not being cheated.

“At a time when travelers have to deal with proliferating airline fees, shrinking airplane seats, and long lines at airports, the last thing they need is to worry that they might be spending hundreds of extra dollars on their airfare for no reason. The Department of Transportation has shown a strong commitment to airline consumer protection, and I urge you to consider building upon this work by investigating this new airline practice,” the letter stated.

The Senator cited the prices for a trip from Newark to Los Angeles to San Francisco and back his staff discovered during a recent search on the website of one of the leading airlines, in which a multi-city booking cost $1,311, compared to just $592 for individual one-way bookings on the same flights—more than double the cost. (Click here or scroll below to see details about this example – and three other scenarios.)

Sen. Menendez has long advocated for greater consumer protections for air travelers. He has cosponsored a measure introduced this week to require the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to set minimum seat- and aisle-size standards to combat airlines’ attempts to further squeeze passengers in order to maximize profits.

In February, he reintroduced his Real Transparency in Airfares Act to reinforce existing consumer protections and double the penalties for those companies that try to deceive their customers by not advertising upfront the full cost of an airline ticket. The Senator last year convinced the airlines to abandon their trade group’s plan to shrink the size of allowable carry-on bags in order to collect more checked-bag fees.

Sen. Menendez first introduced his Clear Airfares Act in 2008, a bill to require better disclosure of hidden fees. In May of 2014, Menendez responded to proposed standards DOT issued, based in part on the Clear Airfares Act, which would require greater disclosure of fees such as those for bags and seats.

The full text of Sen. Menendez’s letter to Sec. Foxx follows and can be downloaded here.

Dear Secretary Foxx,

I write today to express my concern over recent reports that several U.S. airlines have changed their ticket price disclosure practice for multi-city itineraries. According to these reports, certain airlines are only advertising their most expensive fare options for travelers trying to book multi-city trips, while travelers purchasing those same flights as individual segments are given a range of fare options. This practice can cost consumers hundreds of dollars in unnecessary costs at a time when air travel is already a substantial expense. I urge you to conduct an investigation of this procedure under the Department’s authority to regulate against unfair and deceptive practices.

Consider the example of a traveler taking a multi-city trip, leaving Newark to visit a friend in Los Angeles, then traveling from Los Angeles to San Francisco to visit family before returning home. If this traveler were to book each leg of the trip individually, a recent airfare search found that the total cost would come to $592. However, if this same trip on the same airline was booked as a multi-city trip in one purchase, the total is shown as $1,311—more than double the cost. This sizeable difference is due to the airline’s decision to only advertise pricier flexible fares for the multi-city purchase—tickets that are far more expensive than the standard, non-refundable tickets that are available when each leg of the trip is booked separately.

At a time when travelers have to deal with proliferating airline fees, shrinking airplane seats, and long lines at airports, the last thing they need is to worry that they might be spending hundreds of extra dollars on their airfare for no reason. The Department of Transportation has shown a strong commitment to airline consumer protection, and I urge you to consider building upon this work by investigating this new airline practice.

Thank you for your consideration of this request, and I look forward to continuing to work with you on behalf of the flying public.

Sincerely,

Multiple-Trip Bookings: Are these fair fares?

Click on any of the below graphics to view or download as a larger PDF.

Newark-to-California Trip – Detailed in Three Graphics:

Three Booking Scenarios:

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