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Now that the volcanic ash is clearing…we see rip offs

Now that the volcanic dust is clearing over London you can see…rip off airfares!

But not if you read The Age or Sydney Morning Herald.

Both papers have killed the link to their exposé yesterday of airlines posting rip-off economy class fares to London as high as $11,429, which is exactly $100 less than this morning’s Qantas.com quote for business class return to Heathrow from Melbourne leaving mid June and returning mid July.

It seems that having lost its grip on real estate dollars in Melbourne there is no way Fairfax is going to let consumer interest stories cost it the travel advertiser dollars as well.

These are the facts. There is always a very high full economy fare in airline tariffs in general which has historically been the basis for calculating pro-rata sector fares where airlines host another carrier’s passenger over part of their route structure.

It should never, ever, be offered to consumers. It is a relic of a past era that makes inherently misleading appearances on some on line retail sites from time to time, sometimes with beguiling references to the added security or benefits of a ‘full’ economy fare over a discount fare.

Crikey could not find such a stratospherically outrageous fare on the main sites this morning, but if the report was in error it would be normal for the Fairfax broadsheets to publish a correction.

In this case, they didn’t correct it. They expunged it. The reasonable conclusion is that editorial and archived copy surgery was performed to keep a dynamite consumer interest topic out of sight, regardless of whether or not the original report was written by someone who was clueless about air fares.

The misuse of extremely high unconditional economy fares to trap the unwary is a recurrent problem in air fare retailing. To their credit both Webjet a major online third party fare retailer, and Singapore Airlines have in the past publicly vowed to prevent their use, inadvertent or otherwise, after these fares caused consternation in consumer circles some years ago.

But there were some stand out rip off fares in circulation today.

For example, a trial booking on British Airways through its Australian site for departures from Melbourne or Sydney in the cheapest available economy category on May 28, with a return on June 23, produced the quote below.

BA quote

However, knowing that the same flights are sold by Qantas.com under its joint services agreement with BA, and have both BA and QF flight numbers, the same flights were then sought from the Qantas site.

QF quote outbound

QF quote inbound

Note that the cheapest of the fare options offered by Qantas were available. The BA operated flights are identified by a coloured dot and are coded QF 301 and QF319 outbound and QF302 and QF320-same fares-on the way back. BA was selling the same seats Qantas was offering for a total $2180 for $4332, which is appalling.

(Another set of quotes produced a Qantas return fare of $2800, which for the high travel season is itself reasonable.)

Be warned. These put-ons with ‘unconditional’ economy fares that are ‘flown’ at an altitude higher than the 747s fly, will rattle around the travel retail scene opportunistically lying in wait for those who are either gullible or desperate to get a confirmed booking in the aftermath of the air space closures.

Singapore Airlines pointedly emphasised this morning that it would not be selling its economy fares at inflated prices in the coming weeks, even though it said getting a seat in economy class would be difficult on its Europe and UK services for some time.

The background to the Singapore position is that Flight Centre, which controls more than half the shop front travel outlets in Australia, and which has been at loggerheads with Singapore Airlines over the commercial relationship between them, yesterday told the travel trade media that the flow on effect of the ash crisis was that fares were set to rise.

Flight Centre may be right, but the alternative scenario is that if there are more disruptions and eruptions, and consumer uncertainty discourages travel to Europe, prices will not go up, but collapse.

This price uncertainty, sky high, or rock bottom, is especially true of other travel products, such as hotel rooms, hire cars and all inclusive packages.

The BBC today is crammed with horror stories about hotels doubling their full or rack rates, and car rental companies hitting those who tried to arrive in Europe from the dust free airports on its edges with €5000 fees for dropping off a vehicle rented in Bratislava in Birmingham.

Which is really daft. You can buy a perfectly roadworthy ‘bomb’ in Slovakia for well under €2000  and just abandon it in the UK. Actually that would be naughty. It could easily be sold for a few hundred quid or even given away at the local Slovak social club. Think like a backpacker at times like this.

If European and British travel does take a dive because of fears about more ash related strandings those travel service providers who have to make monthly payments for rents or loans are going to switch from trying to gouge their way out of trouble by robbing the few, and revert to distressed inventory sales to the many, just to get across the line.

It is too early in the ashen aftermath to work out whether the Flight Centre prediction of higher prices, or a sudden frenzy of deep discounting, will apply to Europe and UK travel.

This is a longer version of a report published in the Crikey email bulletin earlier today.

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  • 1
    bobm
    Posted April 22, 2010 at 9:20 am | Permalink

    Such is the dynamic nature of air fare pricing these days that this morning, just 12 hours or so are you blogged, that BA’s price for these flights is now more or less the same as QF. Interestingly, I see that Etihad and Malaysian are currently selling seats for the same days you tried for about $1900 and $2000 return respectively.

    Despite the media hype, there are still some good deals to LHR at the moment … if you shop around.

    Out of curiosity, I just looked to see if I could get a rtn flight to LHR departing next Friday, just a week away … yes, indeed, I can … and for just $2100 with Etihad, or $2300 with Malaysian, and $2400+ with Singapore.

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