Wednesday, January 17, 2007
Fare's fair?
A question sent to me last month on CNN Business Traveller about airline pricing set me thinking. Why do airlines charge such different prices for effectively the same route depending on where you start your journey? (The letter writer used Melbourne-Tokyo as his example.)

I decided to look a bit further. This morning a search on Expedia showed the majority of prices for a one-stop flight from London to Los Angeles in business class at £4000 – yes, £4000. And that’s the discounted price. There were two options on Air France and KLM that came in at £2500.

But then I asked Expedia for Frankfurt to Los Angles on the same dates and the result came back at half the price. Nothing new about that, I hear you say. London is always a more expensive option because the amount of origin and destination (O&D) traffic is so high and the airport is slot congested.

But – and this is the bit that enraged me – the Frankfurt-Los Angeles journey involved connecting through London anyway, with Virgin Atlantic doing the trans-Atlantic leg! So, the airlines involved (British Airways and Virgin Atlantic) are the very same carriers to Los Angeles. The only difference is they have added on a leg from Frankfurt. It is madness that a journey that actually involves an extra leg and the same airlines can be half the price than if I just start somewhere else. Madness! Which raised the question, why wasn’t either airline offering better prices from London to start with?

And, as any frequent flier will know, it is not an option to book the cheaper ticket and miss the first leg. Being a “no-show” on the outbound flight from Frankfurt would result in the entire booking being canceled, as many of us have discovered to our costs when we have tried to do that. The airlines do this deliberately to prevent us from taking advantage of cheaper points of origin.

How can Expedia sell at that price to passengers willing to travel from Frankfurt via London, but not offer the flight to those who want to start in London? It simply doesn’t make any common sense (although makes perfect marketing and economic sense if London O&D is a more popular market).

It is here that I start to battle with myself. My business journalism head says: “Richard, that is the way these things are done. It makes perfect sense if the Frankfurt market needs those lower prices on that route.” But put on my traveler’s hat and I start to froth. It is nonsensical that there can be such a discrepancy in price when the actual flights involved are virtually the same.

I know many of you have the similar examples in your part of the world, particularly between Asia and Australia, or Asia and the U.S.

This is made even worse when we get to the code-shares, when you start seeing airlines that you know don’t run their own aircraft offering the flights on other carriers at lower prices than the owner of the plane itself will sell the fare.

Airline pricing has never made much sense, that much I know. But when I see such flagrant gouging and such idiotic practices such as the Expedia London/Frankfurt to Los Angeles example I have to let off steam.

What will I do? Probably book the Frankfurt routing and buy a cheapie ticket from London to Frankfurt. I will save thousands of pounds in the process, spend probably another five hours getting to my destination. And no one will actually win.

CNN Comment Policy: CNN encourages you to add a comment to this discussion. You may not post any unlawful, threatening, libelous, defamatory, obscene, pornographic or other material that would violate the law. Please note that CNN makes reasonable efforts to review all comments prior to posting and CNN may edit comments for clarity or to keep out questionable or off-topic material. All comments should be relevant to the post and remain respectful of other authors and commenters. By submitting your comment, you hereby give CNN the right, but not the obligation, to post, air, edit, exhibit, telecast, cablecast, webcast, re-use, publish, reproduce, use, license, print, distribute or otherwise use your comment(s) and accompanying personal identifying information via all forms of media now known or hereafter devised, worldwide, in perpetuity. CNN Privacy Statement.