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The Monday Rant: Airline Pricing Reconsidered

Scott Vogel

First of all: full disclosure. Today's rant is not technically my own, but that of a ranter in last week's online chat, although it's one I am enthusiastically re-ranting today for those of you who might have missed it. In fact, things got a bit heated during last week's discussion about the airlines and the advertisements they use to lure us into their lairs, so much so that I thought it might be prudent to open things up for wider venting.

It's something that all of us have probably experienced. You pick up a magazine or see something flickering on the edge of your monitor while reading a news story online. There it is: a flight on, say, Air France from Washington to Paris for $361. Okay, no one has to tell you that the price quoted is one-way based on roundtrip purchase, or that that fare is only available on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays. But you adjust your trip accordingly and double the figure. It's now $722. That's getting up there but, hey, it's Paris, and that's not a bad deal. But wait, let's add the taxes and Sept. 11 fee: $114.31.

Grand total: $836.31.

And so what once seemed like a bargain ... Hold on. That's not a bad price at all. Here I am all ready to bash the airlines for misrepresenting their fares, and now I can't think of anything else but booking a trip to Paris on the first Monday in October. Cancel that rant!

Then again, I can well understand the complaints of those who wish the airlines wouldn't try to distance themselves from their taxes and fees, preferring instead to offer deals of $399 to Timbuktu and hoping we'll book flights without noticing those hefty surcharges and restrictions. After all, imagine if you went to buy a 22-inch flat screen TV at Best Buy for $399 and discovered that instead of the approximately $20 extra in tax you would be paying more than $800 bucks total for that flat screen bliss?

On the other hand, at the end of the day you'd only have a 22-inch flat screen from TV from Best Buy and not a trip to Paris, so... Okay, let's stop this nonsense right now. Is anyone really bothered by airline pricing, or should we all just drop the subject and head to the Best Buy counter? Or was it the Air France counter?

By Scott Vogel |  June 30, 2008; 9:33 AM ET  | Category:  Scott Vogel
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Yeah, I am bothered by the manner in which airline pricing is advertised, but it's not all that much different from the way the price of a car is advertised. Too bad I can't bring my brilliant negotiator husband with me to the airline ticket counter to get the ticket price down below MSRP. (Just let me check with my manager...)

Posted by: Karen | June 30, 2008 10:08 AM

I absolutely HATE that pricing gimmick.

I guess it's not like they're fooling anyone, since we all seem to be on to them. But then why do they keep doing it? It seems like the result is simply to anger would-be customers and turn them off. Why is that a good marketing strategy? Don't the airlines need to cultivate whatever little goodwill they can during these times?

Posted by: PQ | June 30, 2008 10:44 AM

I haven't experienced this so much with the airlines directly, but more with the aggregators who don't include taxes and fees in their pricing. We started planning an August family vacation to Cancun back in March and every time we seemed to find a good deal it was cheaper to go direct with US Airways or American.

Posted by: Mike Sorce | June 30, 2008 11:22 AM

What I find mildly annoying is that ads from BA and Virgin Atlantic always quote prices that, if one reads the small print, are one-way from JFK. If the ad is to run in a WASHINGTON-area publication, why not quote the fare as one-way from Dulles instead? Otherwise one has to factor in the cost of getting to and from Kennedy, the additional time, etc., and it's usually not worth it. (When BA advertised Concorde fares I could understand quoting prices from JFK, given that regular Concorde flights to Dulles ended in 1994, but Concorde service ended five years ago this year and thus I think they have nothing special to warrant the trip up to New York--the nicer passenger lounges there aren't themselves enough reason, IMO.)

Posted by: Rich | June 30, 2008 12:07 PM

Comparing airplanes and autos is like comparing apples and avocados.

With cars, the taxes and fees will vary depending on where you live and where you buy the car. And they all advertise sans taxes and other fees, so there is some consistency. Although it would be nice if all of the leasing ads included the cash needed to close the deal.

With airfares, they shoud all include all the taxes. When comparing flights, the fees and taxes should be the same for both the orginating and the departing airport. Doesn't matter if you search the newspaper ads or stories, the air lines own web sites or the consolidated or aggregator web sites, all should include all the taxes and fees and save us all some time in our searches.

And the prices need to be realistic. If fuel costs more, for goodness sakes, charge more. The ala carte method of pricing is for the birds, literally. Weight of luggage, girth of bodies, number of pieces of stuff to be stored, all apply to any mode of transportation. Heaven forbid if the planes and busses adopt the airlines pricing methods.

Posted by: Oy! | June 30, 2008 1:52 PM

okay, so anyone who's bought a plane ticket knows about taxes and fees. my problem is every single time I buy a ticket, it doesn't matter which website, airline or discount, I always have to enter my information twice, or more. And why can't you purchase anything without giving a bunch of personal info? i can only afford one plane ticket a year (if that), I don't want daily newsletters about airfare.
Thanks, I needed to vent that.

Posted by: squints | July 1, 2008 9:23 AM

What the big print giveth, the small print taketh away. That's been true forever for every industry and particularly for government agencies. Truth in advertising, now there's an oxymoron.

Posted by: Tom | July 1, 2008 3:49 PM

Whenever I see those come-ons, I just double it and add $200. It's almost always about that much. Same with those frustrating package tour ads: It's always from NY (so stop selling me them here in DC!); it's the bland hotel miles from the city center; it doesn't include taxes and fees; it's always a connecting flight; you have to travel on *their* dates. And you have to travel in pairs or pay a single supplement! I often travel solo, and when a friend does accompany me she is flying from a different city! So I just plan my own "package." I get great flights, from DC, travel solo with no single supplement, I research my own hotel. I am usually within $100 of the organized package tour. I've just put together my own "package" for Vienna and Prague and I have compromised on nothing.

Posted by: Got it figured out | July 2, 2008 8:18 PM

$836 may be a good deal, but it was advertised for $361. Seems like a "bait and switch" tactic to me. This type of advertising only reinforces my poor opinion of airlines.

Airlines would generate much needed good will if they advertised the total price.

Posted by: EL | July 3, 2008 3:46 PM

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