The roundtrip airfare from Madison, Wis., to London is a reasonable $305 on American Airlines — until you add taxes, fees and fuel surcharges. Then it’s $691. 

Delta Air Lines charges $742. Wait, make that $942 after you add in all the mandatory extras. And Lufthansa? $580. I mean, $1,034.

When Gregory Dyslin, a computer specialist who lives in Madison, found these prices through Orbitz, he was flabbergasted. “How in the name of all that is holy and right can they say this?” he wondered.

Airlines break out their fares in this increasingly absurd way because it makes their prices look lower — at least, at first — and because they’re allowed to. As long as a total fare is quoted at the end of the transaction, the government doesn’t get in the way.

Agencies like Orbitz are caught in the middle of this bizarre pricing game, in a way. But in a way, they also play along. The results of Orbitz’ search, which are displayed as a matrix, yield two fares: a less expensive base fare on top that’s boldfaced, and a “total” fare that appears below it in normal type. Why not just show the full fare?

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  • Elliott

    Christopher Elliott has been called one of the world’s leading travel experts. But his focus isn’t on the destination, or ev…

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