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Taxes and fees rolled into airfare: Transparency or dirty trick?

Spirit Airlines is crying foul about new government

Spirit Airlines is crying foul about new government regulations that require airlines to include taxes and fees in advertised prices. Credit: Spirit.com screen shot

It's February, and as we reported last month, you're probably noticing airfares seem a little higher. Maybe a lot higher. The fares haven't necessarily gone up, however; it's just that now taxes and fees are rolled up into them. No more sneaky asterisks.

Word on the street has been that this is a good thing. Transparency, after all, serves the consumer, right? So I was a little taken aback when I saw this discalaimer at the top of Spirit Airlines website:

"New government regulations require us to HIDE taxes in your fares."  Boy, does that sound ominous. To make it even more alarming, there was a little red triangle containing an exclamation point inside a black box and the word "WARNING" near the message, similar to one might expect to find near toxic waste. So I stared at the page for a sec and scratched my head. Hmmm. Two sides to every story. Three, actually, if you count the truth. At least that's what my father always used to say.

So here's the backstory: Forever, we've been lured by too-good-to-be-true airfare ads that had tiny little asterisks near the impossibly low price. Then when we pounced on it and were about to enter our credit card number, we noticed that the actual price was something like 20 percent higher than what we expected. That's because Uncle Sam takes a share of just about everything we buy and also because there are FAA, Homeland Security and other fees tacked on. So that $299 round trip to Vegas ends up closer to $400. When the government decided it was going to start enforcing Regan-era regulations that made it necessary for airlines to advertise the actual amount customers would be charged, we applauded.

This morning, however, I'm contemplating renegging my applause. Spirit has put a spin on the whole thing that casts a bit of a shadow on how fair this law actually is. I mean, when I buy a shirt, the tag doesn't reflect the tax-included cost. Car dealers don't advertise prices with taxes and fees rolled in. So why are the airlines being forced to?

 It might be interesting to note that I checked the JetBlue, American and Delta websites, and none mentioned the ruling on their homepages.  Is the regulation supposed to help consumers or protect the government? Does Spirit have a point or are they just whining? What do you think?

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