We believe independent airline ticket-booking sites will promote Web credibility, improve trust among users and increase usability if they adopt Consumer Reports WebWatch’s guidelines for all Web sites and the following industry-specific guidelines:
- Sites should provide consumers with a comprehensive list of airlines and travel companies with which they do business. This list should be prominently displayed and easy to find, with a current date of last update.
- Sites should provide consumers with basic explanations of how their Web booking technologies work, for instance, how they receive their flight and fare data, how often new or exclusive fares are loaded into the system, and what criteria are used to include or exclude fares.
- Sites should tell consumers if a given fare is exclusive to that site, exclusive to a particular air carrier or affiliated carriers, or exclusive to the Internet. All quoted fares should include all necessary federal and local taxes, airport and security fees, fuel surcharges, and all other required taxes, fees, and surcharges.
- Sites should provide basic definitions of these frequently used marketing terms: “low-fare,” “lowest-fare,” “discount fare,” “discounted fare,” and “nonstop” vs. “direct” vs. “connecting” flights. Sites should avoid making claims of offering a “lowest fare” if subsequent ticketing fees and service charges raise the price of a ticket sufficiently enough that a competitor’s price, or an airline’s own branded site, beats that fare.
- The better sites will provide a 24-hour-a-day toll-free help desk to assist consumers with changes, cancellations and refunds, and the booking of multi-city or other complicated itineraries. At a minimum, sites should in writing provide all relevant information and instructions for dealing with changes, cancellations, refunds and multi-city bookings.
- Sites should provide consumers with a comprehensive list or drop-down menu of all airports served, and their related codes, by geographic area. This information should be prominently displayed and easy to find with a current date of last update. To assist in fare searches, the better sites will allow consumers to tailor the search by airport, stops en route, and seat selection, and allow for changes mid-search.