Airlines and False Pricing

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They call it “fees.” The reality is that it is false pricing.

The airline industry, through consolidation and relentless cost cutting, has turned itself, with few exceptions, into an indistinguishable commodity.

For the average, non-million mile, traveller, there is little difference between United Airlines and American Airlines. Both charge you to check a bag, neither offers a free meal, both offer the tiniest seats with the least leg room possible to jam as many people into a flying tube as possible. Both airlines have frequent delays and cancellations, and customer service that often tries, but really can’t do anything in most cases.

In other words, there is absolutely no reason to pick United over American, or Delta, or vice versa. And so, customers pick the airline based on one thing: price.

Hidden Pricing

The trick to airfare pricing is that, in many cases, the choice a customer makes is not whether to purchase a plane ticket but with who. If you are going to a reunion in Seattle, you have to buy an airline ticket, and it has to be for that weekend. As a result, the only price that matters is the comparison price between airlines.

However, competing for the lowest price is not a good way to generate profits, so the airline industry has moved to what it euphemistically calls fees, but is in a real way, just flat out deception to prevent price comparison.

Is the United flight cheaper than the Delta flight?

Many customers head to the airline website, maybe check a travel website like Oritz or Travelocity, and compare prices. However, those comparisons are deliberately incomplete.

Is it actually cheaper to fly Delta than American?

To find out, you have to actually look at all the fees you’ll encounter.

A family of four may need to check three bags, and get advanced seat assignments so that a parent isn’t separated from their six-year old. To really price that fare, you not only have to find the cost of the ticket, but then find that checked bag fee (at least it is standard across flights) and then add-on other fees.

For example, American Airlines forces you to pay PER SEAT to reserve seats in advance. Sure, you can wait until 24 hours before the flight and try to check in then, but good luck getting four seats together for what is supposed to be a FAMILY vacation.  Even worse, you have to get pretty far into your reservation to find out what those seat reservations will cost. Window seat for $26, middle seat for $13, and then aisle seat for $24, or whatever.

The goal of all this is to drive up your fare without you seeing that by the time you added all the fees and add-ons on one airline, that you could have actually paid less with a different set of fees on another airline.

The less you travel, the less you are to know where all the hidden costs are, and how to compare them, and that is the whole point.

For frequent travelers the airlines have a different trick. If you fly a certain airline enough, your “elite” status allows you to skip some of the more irritating fees. In other words, once you know enough to actually compare properly, the airlines add a new variable.

In the end, there is nothing you can do but be as diligent as possible, and make sure you stay in your own budget.

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