Photograph ©2016 by Brian Cohen.

8 Deceptive Business Practices of Travel Companies: A Reference Guide

In recent years, travel companies — including but not limited to airlines, lodging companies  rental car companies, and cruise lines — seem to have been engaging in business practices which are increasingly designed to intentionally deceive customers.

8 Deceptive Business Practices of Travel Companies: A Reference Guide

Listed in this article are eight of what are widely considered as deceptive business practices — at least, from the point of view of consumers — despite them either being perfectly legal or straddling the fine line of being against the law.

They are listed in no specific order — and without further ado, starting with…

1. Carrier-Imposed Surcharges

No one seems to have been able to define what is a “carrier-imposed surcharge” — other than to be used as a replacement for fuel surcharges which went into effect when the price of jet fuel was significantly more expensive several years ago than it is today.

When viewing the components of an airfare, the carrier-imposed surcharge — the name itself can sound rather daunting and yet mystifying — is typically defined as YQ.

You may not notice — or care — about what percentage of the cost of your ticket is attributed to the carrier-imposed surcharge when the total cost of the airfare is quite inexpensive…

…but when the carrier-imposed surcharge can amount to hundreds of dollars for award travel — especially when flying as a passenger from other countries to the United States — after redeeming your frequent flier loyalty program miles for a “free” trip, you cannot help but notice…

…and when the carrier-imposed surcharge on an award ticket costs almost as much as if you paid for the ticket outright with money, the award ticket becomes useless — and you wonder why you even have those frequent flier loyalty program miles in your membership account in the first place.

Avoiding paying carrier-imposed surcharges is virtually impossible — but you can compare airlines on similar flight routes to see which one charges a carrier-imposed surcharge which is less expensive than the other. If you are flexible enough, you can also compare flight routes from nearby airports which can help you save money on fees such as carrier-imposed surcharges — or even overall on revenue airfare.

2. Mandatory Resort Fees

This obnoxious fee is the lodging version of the carrier-imposed surcharge — which can also be known as a mandatory facilities fee or a mandatory destination fee, depending on the location — and it has been increasing both in cost at some hotel and resort properties as well as the number of hotel and resort properties which have started including them in their room rates.

Mandatory resort fees — and their aforementioned brethren — are the most despised travel fee of 38 percent of the respondents to this poll conducted by Travelers United.

most despised travel fee poll
Source: Travelers United.

That I vehemently oppose the implementation of mandatory resort fees is no secret to you if you have been a reader of The Gate for years — they should either be optional or eliminated altogether — and I will just let this extensive body of work over the years pertaining to mandatory resort fees speak for me…

3. Displaying Sale Fares as One Way When Roundtrip Is Required

You see what appears to be an airfare which is good enough to investigate — only to find out that the price is for a one-way flight, which is bad enough…

…but then you notice that the airfare is based on traveling roundtrip, which is required in order to take advantage of that airfare — which means you need to double it to find out the true cost of the flights for the trip.

Other than to purposely deceive customers into initially thinking that they are taking advantage of a bargain, there is no legitimate reason why the full airfare cannot be displayed if the purchase of a roundtrip airfare is required.

4. Charging Fees For Products or Services You Likely Cannot Avoid

In a free market, companies are free to charge as much as they want for whatever products or services they offer — as long as the practice is within the rules of the law. One egregious example of illegal price gouging is when a store charges ten dollars for a liter of drinking water after a natural disaster has occurred in a place which is without clean running water…

…and travel companies should also be able to charge accordingly for the products and services they offer as a tenet of the basic economic principle of supply and demand — if customers are willing to pay the price.

Unbundling products and services from airfares seems like a smart business decision. After all, not everyone wants a meal while aboard an airplane during a flight. Remember the days when airline meals were ridiculed?

Well, someone has to pay for the meal which is served by a member of the flight crew aboard an airplane. Naturally, that person should be the passenger who consumes it. When only passengers who want meals pay for them, the theory is that airfares are less expensive for other passengers who choose not to dine during a flight — but that is not the issue…

…rather, the issue is when a product or service which is deemed necessary is treated as a separate item but is purposely not included solely to collect a fee in what is typically known as a “money grab.” One example is charging for a bag on a long-haul flight. Although carrying only a small bag with personal items is certainly possible to do as a passenger aboard an airplane for a transoceanic flight, that option is unrealistic to most people. After all, if you are traveling thousands of miles — no matter who pays for the flight — you will want to bring enough of your personal belongings to stay a while in the country or territory which you are visiting, which usually includes necessary clothing, toiletries and medications.

Charging customers a fee to use a credit card to pay for airfare is also unfair if the customer is from another country and has no other realistic option for payment.

Other examples which are considered unrealistic to charge customers fees which are virtually impossible to avoid exist as well.

5. Changes With Little or No Notice

Members of a frequent travel loyalty program rarely earn enough miles or points in one shot to redeem immediately for an award; so they usually have goals of saving enough miles or points over a period of time to use towards some aspirational trip…

…but then, administrators of the frequent travel loyalty program decide to change the rules or policies — perhaps something as simple as increasing the number of miles or points to redeem for an award — sometimes with little to no advance notice, which can put a significant kink in the plans of those members.

Although this inexcusable action was implemented by countless companies in the travel industry, one particularly egregious example was when the rules of a promotion from Wyndham Rewards earlier this year were changed in which the duration of the offer was shortened by 13 full days suddenly and without notice — meaning that anyone who had hotel reservations booked during those 13 days in the hopes of earning up to 15,000 bonus Wyndham Rewards points for up to three stays. Many of them were left high and dry — and without even an apology.

6. When Bonus Miles or Points are “Included” — But At What Cost?

Many special rates are advertised by airlines, lodging companies, or rental car companies which give the impression that you are getting something extra for a limited time — but that the rates are usually more expensive is typically not disclosed.

A classic example was illustrated in this article written by Seth Miller of Wandering Aramean, who shows proof that a limited offer of 30 miles per dollar spend on flowers can actually cost you as much as $20.00 more for the same exact product.

Another example is this current promotion from Radisson Rewards through which stays of a minimum of two consecutive nights booked using the flexible Treat Yourself promotional rate by Thursday, May 31, 2018 and completed by Monday, September 3, 2018 can earn a gift card from either Amazon or Starbucks worth $25.00 — but Ric Garrido of Loyalty Traveler discovered that those rates are actually not the least expensive which are available, as you could be spending as much as $9.00 more for those rates than with those of the American Automobile Association.

7. Magazine Advertisements Designed to Scare or Fool You Into Spending Your Miles

The brother of FlyerTalk member CutePuppy95 was notified that his 19,000 SkyMiles will be expiring and that redeeming those SkyMiles towards magazine subscriptions is the way to go. Hey — that poor deal is better than losing those SkyMiles, right?

Perhaps — except for one minor discrepancy: SkyMiles do not expire.

I myself have received numerous aggressive communications over the years which were designed to pry my miles and points from my membership accounts for subscriptions to useless magazines such as Roach Leg Hair MonthlyTools You Too Can Make Out of Kumquats and Spit, and People Born on February 30 and 31 Digest.

The language is carefully worded to cause undue panic — even if the miles or points will eventually expire. All an unsuspecting recipient of one of those communications needs to read is “LAST CHANCE! Your miles will expire…” — only to find that it was simply an advertisement for magazine subscriptions.

I find those communications to be only one level above — if not on the same level — as “spam”; and certainly approaching the spuriousness of “click bait”

8. Hidden Price Increases

Price increases which are not known to the customer can be found in myriad forms. One of many examples is the proliferation of Basic Economy airfares, which airlines purport that customers now have greater choices in terms of saving money — although numerous examples from many sources illustrate that the Basic Economy airfare is usually the same price as what used to be regular economy airfare, which has actually increased in price since the introduction of Basic Economy airfares…

…and then there is comparison presented by Seth Miller of Wandering Aramean:

“Ticket prices used to include bags, now they don’t and ticket prices have fallen”, according to this article written by Gary Leff of View From The Wing pertaining to the reporting of checked baggage fees by airlines to the Department of Transportation of the United States. “Unbundling means some people pay more, but not everyone, there’s a lot of ‘moving money around’ here.”

I disagree. I have yet to find a Basic Economy airfare which is lower than what regular economy airfares used to cost — and even worse, Gary Leff correctly stated multiple times that “these offerings would not mean lower prices.” Basic Economy airfares are not always inexpensive; and yet they are designed to drive customers to instead upgrade to a better product — for more money, of course.


Whatever happened to simply selling something which a customer wants or needs — and doing so as clearly and as transparently as possible?

There is nothing wrong with the challenge of selling snow to an Eskimo if the need is truly justified and the customer benefits from it — but to seemingly intentionally deceive customers erodes trust and theoretically can harm business in the long run.

Yes, some of the responsibility can reasonably be placed on the customer who is able to research and arrive at a smart conclusion based on his or her wants and needs; but the purportedly deceptive practices can seem to be akin to having your pocket picked by some nefarious individual.

To create a definitive resource comprised of a list of questionable — yet legal — business practices committed by travel companies upon their customers and members for the long term is a futile attempt; so at the risk of repeating myself in the future, I intend to update this article in the form of a new article whenever necessary; warranted when new or accidentally omitted information is available; or simply as a reminder…

…and that is where you come in: what did I miss in this article which should be added in a future article? Please let me know in the Comments section below.

Photograph ©2016 by Brian Cohen.