Now that oil, which represents 35 to 40 percent of the cost of an airline ticket, has fallen back to the more comfortable, manageable, $96-a-barrel level, we business travelers can all rest easy, right?
After all, crude oil prices "plunged" almost $4 in three minutes on Monday and dropped a few more pennies Tuesday. That all means that there's no need to worry about those nasty price traps that the travel industry continues to set whenever we try to purchase a plane ticket, rent a hotel room, or reserve a rental car.
I joke, of course. A few bucks a barrel either side of the $100 plateau doesn't change much in the business-travel world. Ugly pricing cons are going to be with us for the foreseeable future, and the more you know about them, the better your chance of sidestepping the worst budget-busting tricks.
There is no "free" airline seat
You probably haven't noticed it, but airlines long ago stopped offering "free" tickets if you accrue enough miles in a frequent-flyer program. Now the term of art is that you earn an "award seat." The reason for the jargon change is simple: There is no such thing as a "free" seat anymore.
All airlines, for example, now claim that you are responsible for government-imposed taxes and fees on tickets. Those add-ons are not insubstantial (anywhere from $5 to $50 or so each way), but they are small potatoes compared to the fuel surcharge imposed on an "award seat" to many international destinations. By U.S. government regulation, fuel surcharges are now bundled into the total price that airlines are required to show you when you inquire about a paid ticket. But now-hidden fuel surcharges can be added to an "award seat." The result? As much as $800 in fees on that once-free frequent-flyer ticket.