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Buying a Ticket

Before You Buy a Ticket

Comparing ticket prices, analyzing ticket restrictions, and comparing the cost of optional services is all part of the ticket buying process.  DOT has in place passenger protection requirements to make this process easier for consumers.

Comparing Ticket Prices

It is relatively easy to compare ticket prices using the internet (through airline websites, online travel agencies, etc.).  DOT requires airlines and travel agencies that display ticket prices to advertise the total price that a consumer must pay to purchase a ticket.  Wherever an airfare is advertised, such as on a website, in an email, or during the booking process, the fare price must include all applicable government taxes and fees, and any mandatory carrier-imposed surcharges. 

  • Taxes, fees, and Surcharges - When the total ticket price is displayed to a consumer, airlines and ticket agents (travel agents and online travel agents) may break down the fees included in the total ticket price.  However, the total ticket price must be more prominent than the breakdown of the charges.

Restrictions on Tickets

Airlines are free to create different ticket types with different types of restrictions (fare classes).  While some tickets are fully-refundable and may include two free checked bags, free drinks, a seat assignment, and other amenities, other tickets may provide only transportation on the airplane and may be non-refundable.  It is important that you understand the type of ticket you are purchasing and what types of restrictions apply. 

Note:  Generally, discounted tickets have the strictest rules such as non-refundability, baggage restrictions, and the absence of a seat assignment.  In contrast, first class or business class tickets typically are the least restrictive and provide many amenities to consumers. 

Purchasing Optional Services

Optional services are amenities that airlines provide to consumers that are separate from the consumer’s ability to travel on an airplane after buying a ticket.  While purchasing a ticket may give you the ability to travel on a flight, purchasing an optional service (for example - onboard Wi-Fi) gives you the ability to obtain an additional service. 

  • Optional services on some airlines may include:
    • Advance seat selection
    • Baggage Fees
    • Onboard meals, snacks, or drinks
    • Onboard Wi-Fi
    • Pet travel
    • Priority check-in
    • Travel insurance
    • Unaccompanied minor fees
  • Airlines and ticket agents are prohibited from automatically including optional services in the ticket price.  For example, an airline cannot preselect optional services such as on-board Wi-Fi, baggage fees, extra legroom, and other optional services during the booking process thereby forcing the consumer to opt-out of these services (and additional charges) by unselecting them. 
  • Optional services can be added to the total airfare to be paid by the consumer only if the consumer agrees to pay a fee for such a service (for example - by checking a box to select a particular optional service or by taking some other affirmative action). 

How can I find out about an airline’s baggage fees?

Airlines are required to provide information about their baggage fees through: 1) a clear link from the airline’s homepage to a page or place on the airline’s website that displays all of the airline’s baggage fees and other optional service fees, and 2) a link on the first screen that appears with a fare quotation for a specific itinerary.

  • Note:  Airlines may have additional charges and restrictions for overweight and oversized baggage.  This information should be displayed on the carrier’s optional services and baggage fees page.  You may wish to check the carrier’s baggage policies before you book your ticket.

Do I have to pay a baggage fee for my assistive device?

No. Airlines cannot charge you a fee for traveling with an assistive device.  For more information, please visit our assistive devices webpage.

Purchasing a ticket through a travel agency

Passengers often book air travel through travel agencies.  When you purchase a ticket through a travel agency or agent, you are not buying a ticket directly from the airline.  You are allowing the agency or agent to find and book air travel on your behalf. 

If you encounter any problems with your ticket during your travel, you should first contact the travel agency or agent directly.  The airline that you are flying on may be limited in the type of assistance that it can provide to you because you did not purchase your ticket directly from it.  You should check with your travel agent for any restrictions on these tickets.

Which airline is operating your flight?

Sometimes when you book a ticket, the airline that you purchase the ticket from will not be the airline operating your flight. Airlines often partner with each other so that one airline markets a flight to consumers (displays a ticket price and sells a ticket) while another airline is responsible for operating the flight (flying you to your destination). When airlines engage in such an arrangement (code-sharing) they are required to clearly and prominently identify the airline that is operating the flight(s).  During the booking process, this information must be clearly and prominently displayed on the first screen that appears following a search for a specific itinerary. Airlines cannot provide code-share disclosures through roll-overs, pop-ups, and hyper-links. Airlines are also required to clearly and prominently identify code-share partners in all advertisements and on ticket confirmations following the purchase of air fare. 

After You Buy a Ticket

After purchasing an airline ticket, you may have questions or concerns about the ticket that you bought. For instance, you may want a refund because you bought a ticket for the wrong day or you may want to change your name on the ticket because you spelled it incorrectly during the booking process. 

Cancelling or refunding a ticket within 24-hours of booking

  • For airline tickets that are purchased at least seven days before a flight’s scheduled departure, airlines are required to either:
    • allow passengers to cancel their reservation within 24 hours and receive a full refund without a penalty, or
    • allow passengers to reserve a ticket (place it on hold) at the quoted price without paying for the ticket for 24 hours
  • Airlines are not required to offer both a hold and a refund option.  Check your airline’s policy before purchasing a ticket. 
  • Although airlines must hold a reservation for 24 hours or provide a refund to passengers at their request within 24 hours of making a reservation, airlines are not required to make changes to a ticket free of charge (for example - change your ticket to a different date or correct a misspelled name on the reservation).
    • Note:  In some cases, instead of paying for a ticket change fee and a potential difference between the original ticket price and the current ticket price, it may be cheaper to request a refund for the ticket and rebook.  However, please keep in mind that ticket prices can change quickly.
  • When a refund is due, it must be issued to passengers within seven business days for credit card transactions and 20 business days for cash or check payments.
  • The refund/reservation requirement for airlines does not apply to tickets booked through online travel agencies, travel agents, or other third-party agents. However, these agents are free to apply the same or similar procedures to provide equivalent or similar customer service.  If you purchased your ticket through an online travel agency (or other agent), you should contact the travel agent directly to obtain a refund before contacting the airline.

Can an airline increase the price of my ticket after I complete the booking process?

  • After a ticket is fully purchased – with either money or points – and the transaction is completed, the airline is prohibited from increasing the price of the ticket or requiring the passenger to pay additional money unless the airline provided notice to the consumer of the potential for an increase in a government imposed tax or fee and obtained the consumer’s consent.
  • Some airlines and other sellers of airline tickets allow consumers to pay for a portion of the air travel up front.  In this case, the airline or other seller can increase the cost of the airfare after a partial payment has been made IF, before the consumer pays for a portion of the ticket, the airline discloses that the ticket price might increase after the partial payment has been made AND the consumer consents.
  • Sometimes, due to computer errors, airlines may offer a fare by mistake.  For example, an airline may accidentally list a first-class ticket from New York to Dubai for $1, a price far lower than the typical fare price.  When this happens, airlines may cancel any reservations booked at the mistaken fare price, but airlines are required to reimburse consumers for the full ticket price, all optional services purchased, and any reasonable, actual, and verifiable out-of-pocket expenses that were made in reliance upon the ticket purchase (for example, non-refundable hotel or rental car reservations). 

Are airlines required to provide me with the appropriate travel documentation to complete international travel (for example, a visa)?

  • No, airlines are not required to provide you with appropriate travel documents to complete international travel.  It is your responsibility to ensure that you have all the valid travel documents required to complete travel.  If you do not arrive at the airport with proper travel documentation, you will not be allowed to travel.

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