DOT fines TripAdvisor $80K

By Michael P. Tremoglie | Jul 24, 2012

WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) - The U.S. Department of Transportation on July 13 fined ticket agent TripAdvisor $80,000 for violating rules about full-fare advertising.

It was the first penalty assessed for violating the new airline price advertising requirements. It was also cited for failing to disclose that flights were being operated under code-sharing agreements.

"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 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 the new rule states 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.

DOT alleged that from "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."

DOT also said TripAdvisor failed to comply with DOT's code-share disclosure rules. DOT said, "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."

Code-share information is required to be prominent on the first display of a website following a search for flights. DOT alleges that from March through June, TripAdvisor did not display the 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 airline that would actually operate the aircraft on which they would be flying, according to the DOT communique.

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