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Disclaimer: Beware of the Fine Print When Comparing Transparency

Some in the media writing under the mantle of “consumer advocates” have attempted to draw a parallel between buying a car online and booking a flight. This is an apples and oranges comparison, and ignores the lack of transparency displayed (or not) by the very website they elevate as the epitome of transparency.

The column suggests new-car websites should serve as a model for delivering information about optional services such as checked luggage. This comparison assumes that what works for one industry will work for another, specifically ignoring two very important points.

1) U.S. airlines already fully disclose optional service and fee information during the purchase process. If a customer elects an optional service, the cost is itemized at checkout and included in the total purchase price.

2) Upon closer inspection, car savings websites are often a poor model for price transparency.

Car sales websites, and many other cost comparison websites, often omit the fine print associated with the final costs of a product in their advertised prices. For example, the website cited in the column admits in its disclaimer that so-called “Guaranteed Savings” depend on a number of factors, including where consumers live, and do not include add-on options.

*Guaranteed Savings currently not available in all states. In these instances, a “Target Price” is presented, which is not an advertised price, but an example of what you can reasonably expect to pay for a vehicle with your preferred options. Guaranteed Savings represents the amount that a XxxxXxx  Certified Dealer selected by you guarantees that you will save off the Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price (“MSRP”) on any in-stock vehicle that is the same make, model, and trim as your Ideal Vehicle. The Guaranteed Savings is based on a vehicle without factory or dealer installed options and includes generally available manufacturer incentives.

The comparison between car sales websites and commercial airlines – which clearly disclose optional service/fee information – truly misses the mark. An honest debate on transparency is a welcome and important one, but making false comparisons and ignoring what airlines already do helps no one. When it comes to transparency, Mr. Elliott should practice what he preaches.

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