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Online airfare transparency rules to give fliers more accurate costs

FORT LAUDERDALE — Starting Thursday, forget about finding a $9 airfare.

That's the start of new U.S. Department of Transportation airfare rules that require airlines to include all taxes and mandatory fees in the airfare price quoted.

That will make fares look higher, although they only will be advertised in a different — and more transparent — way. The actual fares will not change, travel specialists say.

But it means airfares for $9, advertised by such low-cost carriers as Spirit Airlines, couldn't fly. Taxes alone would cost more, said Monika Dysart a travel consultant with Sixth Star Travel in Fort Lauderdale.

"For the consumer, this is obviously very good," Dysart said. "It's full disclosure of the fare up front, instead of letting you get to the airport thinking you got a good deal and then having another $100 or $200 (added)."

Here's one example of how fares might look different: An airline that used to advertise $39 fares each way between Los Angeles and San Francisco, for example, now would quote the price as $99 round trip. That's $39 one way and $39 back and $21 in taxes, said website Travelzoo.com.

As a rule of thumb, on a nonstop domestic flight, taxes are generally about $21 round trip. On a one-stop domestic flight, taxes are generally $42. On an international flight, taxes can approach up to $200 round trip. Starting Thursday, all those amounts will be bundled into the fares displayed, said Travelzoo.com.

The rules make it easier for travelers to compare prices across airlines, said consumer advocate Ed Perkins of SmarterTravel.com.

Yet airlines could be even more transparent, if they listed all their fees — from bags to frequent flyer fees, charges for pets and infants and more — "all in one easy-to-find page," said George Hobica, the creator of AirfareWatchdog.com, a website that alerts users to low airfares.

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