High Pressure at High Altitude: How Air Travel Overcharges Online, and How to Avoid the Worst

At the airport

Passenger air travel began as early as the middle of the nineteenth century, with pioneers convincing passengers that the best way to pass the 3,000 miles between New York and California was by airship. In the 150 years since those earliest attempts, commercial air travel left behind lighter-than-air flight, criss-crossed the world, entered the jet age, briefly went supersonic, and became affordable to billions of people worldwide. Today commercial aviation whisks almost three billion passengers a year around the world at more than five hundred miles an hour – and is the safest way to travel, per kilometre, in the world. The modern airline industry is safe, efficient, and effective.

However, there are still aspects of the aviation industry that passengers should be wary of. In the era of the price-comparison website, shopping for flights has become much more convenient. As the ease of comparison has risen, so traditional airlines have come under increased pressure from upstart budget airlines to reduce the advertised cost of each seat to their passengers, which has resulted in some unpleasant, and some outright dirty, tricks you’d do best to avoid. You need to watch out for:

Induced panic-buying, where the airline’s website identifies your browser by its cookies, evaluates if you’re checking the price of a flight repeatedly without booking, and begins to artificially raise the price of the ticket every time you check, to fool you into thinking that seats are selling fast and the price is rising. You could save a considerable sum of money by clearing your browser’s cookies or using incognito/private browsing modes before booking your flights.

Unadvertised fees, which may involve discovering that price the airline advertised the ticket for was essentially fictional. Fees may be mandatory, unavoidably tacked on at the end of a lengthy booking process, and can add significant cost– sometimes exceeding the cost of the flight itself. Fees which add to the advertised ‘price’ range from the enormous to the nickel-and-diming of charging you to pay by credit card or to print out tickets, but they’re all deeply unwelcome. Your only recourse is to checking the total price of flights from different providers, not the advertised one, as ones that initially appear cheaper may jump substantially in price by the time it comes to pay.

Overpriced accessories, which may be added by default, pushed persistently and very hard to remove or avoid. Most airlines will do their level best to sell you on additional luxuries – a meal, a hire car, a hotel, or travel insurance – with higher profit margins than your seat, which might even be sold at a loss. Almost without exception these offers represent poor value for money as the airline’s middleman percentage pushes up the price offered by the actual provider – don’t be afraid to reject the airline’s offers and seek your own, as it will almost always be cheaper.

As always, the take-away message for customers of big companies – airlines included – is caveat emptor – ‘let the buyer beware’. With many businesses seeking to expand their online operations, airlines and their customers find themselves increasingly interacting over the internet, which brings with it its own advantages and potential pitfalls. Careful research should keep you from falling into most, and don’t be afraid to step back and examine exactly what it is you’re being sold.

About the author: This article was written by Josh Sinyor for FHR Airport Hotels and Parking.

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