What Are The Hidden Prices In Airline Tickets?

Thursday, June 24, 2010


It’s a buzz word that usually floats around issues involving politics and the economy. People demand to know whether their money is spent on frivolity or if it is going towards something appropriate. This hold especially true in the airline industry.

I always wondered why certain flights were much pricier than others, how removing or adding a few miles or stopovers to one’s destination could impact the price of a ticket by the hundreds. At times, it seemed obtusely counterintuitive. Something told me that fares had to be more than just fuel and landing fees.

As Christopher Elliott points out in his article at Frommer’s, the new trend in the industry is “unbundling,” or stripping all costs from the price except for the seat, then charging for everything else — like bag check-ins, food, and drinks — as ancillary fees. This amounted to $7.8 billion in extra fees last year, up 42 percent from 2008.

Although there are attempts at ameliorating conditions through legislation, the informal sector of information — also known as the internet — has given the people a forum for venting their frustrations. Travel search engines are cutting out the middle-man and enabling savvy travelers to peruse flight prices and to compare what different companies are offering.

Although I have been a long-term user of Expedia, my options have been expanded since reading Elliott’s article. He points to Inside Trip, a growing website that not only looks at the base price, but also factors in all those extra fees. And in a nod to the push for better service, the site also factors in speed, comfort and ease. Now, that is transparency.

I decided to put Inside Trip to the test. I looked up what the cost of a flight from Toronto to Halifax would be, a domestic flight that is notoriously expensive.

After plugging it in and seeing the results, what was interesting to me wasn’t the range of prices that came up — $456 up to $3,074 — but rather that the result was ordered according to Overall Trip Quality (OTP). Funnily enough, the highest OTP correlated with both the shortest distance and the cheapest fare. Why would anyone pay $3,074 to fly 13 hours from Toronto to Halifax with stopovers? Well, at least you have the option.

What was more interesting was that the cheapest flight was offered by Canada’s smaller — relatively “independent” — airline, WestJet, whose motto is, “Because Owners Care.”

So are airliners beginning to not only unbundle, but also beginning to offer quality service at reasonable prices? Apparently the airline industry is adjusting from fiscally focused markets to customer care, an obvious shift based on demand.

Through this increased awareness of quality-made over quantity-paid, people have started to poke fun at the insidious hilarity of it all.

As is noted on one ridiculous example on TruPrice: “Sir, will you be checking your antlers? Because that will be another $100.” (That would be Frontier Airlines.)

Personally, poking fun at a potentially frustrating situation is enlightening. It’s an effective means to informally curtail future price-hikes and it gives us the opportunity, or option, to laugh in the face of the companies who offer very little, yet demand so much.

To keep updated on what your flight really costs — “simplified” — check out TruPrice’s blog here.

By Brit Weaver


About the Author

Toronto born and based, Brit is an avid leisure cyclist, coffee drinker and under-a-tree park-ist. She often finds herself meandering foreign cities looking for street eats to nibble, trees to climb, a patch of grass to sit on, or a small bookstore to sift through. You can find her musing life on her personal blog, TheBubblesAreDead.wordpress.com.

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