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Sunday, February 20, 2005; Page P01

UPRIGHT AND LOCKED

Show Us the Money

A class action suit in Massachusetts has revealed a tantalizing secret: If you fail to use a nonrefundable ticket, you might be able to get back the government fees that are built into the price.

The suit in Middlesex Superior Court against 13 airlines complains that fliers should have received refunds for fees like airport maintenance, security and landing rights. Attorney Evans J. Carter argues: If you didn't use the airport, why shouldn't you get your money back, especially since the airline will collect the fees again if it resells the seat?

During discovery, Carter said, he found that a number of airlines will refund the fees if asked. That doesn't affect his suit, he said, because "we contend they have an obligation to inform consumers" of their entitlement.

Several airlines contacted by CoGo declined to comment. American issued a terse statement saying the lawsuit is "meritless." John Lampl, spokesman for British Airways, said his airline will refund both if asked.

Unrefunded fees from unused tickets add up to at least $50 million a year, Carter said. (He isn't going after the 8 percent ticket tax because, while an IRS rule says the airlines can choose to refund taxes on refundable tickets, the taxes on nonrefundable tickets still must be sent along to the IRS, thank you very much.)

In another taxes-by-another-name issue: Airlines and some members of Congress are fighting President Bush's proposal to increase the airline ticket security fee from $2.50 per leg to $5.50 in order to raise $1.5 billion. The airlines say it will make it harder for them to raise fares and will discourage people from flying.

STUDENT TRAVEL

Smart Spring Breaks

Learn to cook over spring break at a hostel in Thailand (one-day class $18, lodging $10.80 per person per night). Or learn to horseback ride in Hungary (lesson $24 per hour, lodging $12). Or how about skiing in Colorado? (lift ticket, gear and lesson $49, lodging $22).

These are among the spring break learning opportunities at some of the 9,000 hostels in 155 countries around the world. For more ideas: www.hostelworld.com.


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