Archive for the ‘Tips’ Category

Landing Airfare Bargains?

Saturday, November 7th, 2009

2009 has been one of the worst years in history for the commercial aviation industry, with revenues plummeting on the back of worldwide recession. While this has been bad news for stockholders and employees, it can mean ridiculously low airfares for those passengers who can still afford to travel.

The airline only has to sell the last 100 seats for more than $20 each to make it worthwhile.

Traditionally, airlines have used complicated price structures based on historical demand and time of booking. In general, booking early was the best course for those who had specific travel plans as, more often than not, the price would increase as the departure date got closer. Those who were flexible in both time and/or destination could hang on and pick up a bargain at the last minute.

But the game has changed recently. Unlike the slumps that followed Gulf War I and September 11th, this time people are afraid of the bailiffs, not fanatics. Passenger figures are down because of the financial uncertainty that has gripped even the rich. The airlines know this, but they also know that it won’t last forever. The industry is cyclical in nature and, barring another kick in the teeth, the chances are it will be profitable again before too long.

In order to take advantage of this anticipated recovery, they first have to survive. If they can do this while maintaining, or even increasing, their market share, then all the better. The rules still apply to popular routes, such as LHR-JFK, but forward bookings to some destinations are poor. As the airlines are reluctant to cancel these routes (their competitors would pick them up in a flash), it seems that many have adopted a “bums on seats” pricing policy.

Here’s how it works. Say, for example, a 747 with 350 seats is on a 12-hour flight. If the airline has managed to sell 250 of those seats at normal price it won’t be too far from breaking even. However, as the flight was going no matter how many tickets were sold, all the services – baggage handlers, crew, etc – are already paid for. This means that the only extra ‘costs’ of carrying more passengers are fuel and catering. In-flight meals are dirt cheap (no surprises there) and, at July ’09 prices, the additional fuel required to carry 200lbs more weight is about $15 worth.

Therefore, the airline only has to sell the last 100 seats for more than $20 each to make it worthwhile. This is why taxes and charges often outweigh the actual fare on discounted routes, and why full service carriers can be cheaper than their low cost rivals. Of course, this is a very simplistic example and break-even loads depend upon the original ticket prices and operating costs. But, with patience, flexibility and a strong mouse finger, there are some fantastic deals out there, especially on long haul flights where premium seats are being heavily discounted.

This state of affairs won’t last forever though – as soon as demand for travel picks up, so will ticket prices. If for some reason the demand doesn’t pick up then a lot of companies will run out of cash charging these prices. The reduction in capacity as they go bust will have the same effect on airfares.

In the meantime, if you do manage to find bargain flights, keep it to yourself. Chances are the person sitting next to you paid a lot more!

Discount Carrier Rip-offs

Tuesday, June 9th, 2009

“10 Low-cost Airline Money Grabs, and How to Avoid Them”

Whilst discount carriers are often a cheap way of getting from A to B, they can afford the low prices because they hold many of their passengers to ransom. Faced with paying an extra fee or not travelling, the majority have to dip into their pockets. However, forewarned is forearmed, and the following tips ought to save future heartache.

1. Beware The Change: Many airlines let you alter bookings for what appears a small fee. However, they will also charge the difference between the original and the new rate. Within a couple of days of travel, this difference can be hundreds of dollars.

2. Cabin Carry-On: Don’t refuse to pay in advance for checked baggage, hoping that staff will turn a blind eye to the odd extra kilo in your carry-on. Discount carriers tend to police cabin baggage mercilessly so they can hit passengers with huge excess baggage charges.

3. Have Back-Up Money: Airlines are incredibly quick to take your money and glacially slow to give it back. Should you be in the unusual situation of actually getting a refund, it can take up to 6 weeks. Often the refund will be due to the airline cancelling a flight, so try to have back-up funds to buy a replacement ticket.

4. Take Noise-Cancelling Headphones: To maximise revenue, the aircraft are jammed with as many people as they can legally get away with (in parts of the world, this is open to scary interpretation!). As well as being surrounded by hundreds of strangers, carriers see passengers as a captive audience. Flights are one continuous advertisement for food, drink, lottery tickets, etc. Making things worse, some airlines charge $3/minute for cell phone usage and actively encourage it. Blocking out most of the noise might keep the murderous feelings at bay.

5. Low-Cost Isn’t Necessarily Lowest Price: Discount carriers rely on people assuming they are, by definition, the cheapest option. However, when booked a long time in advance, some full-service airlines are very competitive. There will be restrictions, but the ticket will probably include checked luggage, refreshments and no hidden fees. Definitely worth a look.

6. Connection Crisis: If you are booking a connecting flight, even with the same airline, ensure there is sufficient time to make it. Most discount airlines WILL NOT re-book or refund if they consider a delay to be beyond their control. Their definition of this is vague to say the least.

7. Priority Boarding Bulls**t: For a not-inconsiderate fee, some discount carriers offer you the chance to be first on board the aircraft. Unfortunately, you’ll still be battling with other fee-payers and, if the aircraft isn’t on a jet-bridge, you’ve just paid to be first on the bus!

8. You’re Landing Where?: Several low-cost operators fall just short of committing fraud when they claim to serve a city, and airport operators are just as guilty. Make sure the airport you’re flying to is actually close to the city or you could be hit with the cost of ground transportation too. Frankfurt-Hahn, for example, is 60 miles from the city centre – not exactly a cheap cab ride

9. Seats Apart: Some discount carriers save cash by running a free-seating policy. A boarding card is just that – a bit of plastic that gets you on. As far as they are concerned, your ticket will get you on but they couldn’t care less if you’re separated from your two-year-old. If you have a family, you have two choices. Either go with an airline that assigns seating for free. Or turn up at the airport a day early!

10. E-Theft: This is cropping up more and more. With a lot of low-cost airlines, the only way of booking a ticket is through their website. For this privilege, some of the unscrupulous outfits add on a service charge for electronic payment. There’s no other way of paying, so it’s basically charging an excessive amount of money for nothing. By strange coincidence, this is the dictionary’s definition of extortion.

Of course, these are only ten of the worst offences and the airlines are coming up with new scams almost on a daily basis. But if you only take one bit of advice from this article, let it be this: Always, always, read the terms and conditions. Always.

Then read them again!

Be Unafraid to Book on Separate Airlines

Saturday, September 2nd, 2006

Downtown Budapest

I recently needed to book a R/T ticket from Budapest to Phoenix. The best deals I found were with KLM/NWA for $850, but that still seemed a little high. Some more thought needed to be put into this. So I decided to dissect and run a search for each leg of the itinerary and see what it turned up. It showed that Budapest to Los Angeles was only $650 – meaning that the Los Angeles to Phoenix leg was responsible for $200 of the $850 fare!

Knowing that Southwest Airlines typically charges $100 R/T from Los Angeles to Phoenix, I just went ahead and booked the KLM/NWA BUD-LAX fare for $650. I then booked LAX-BUD for $100 on Southwest. All told, this saved me about $100 and the need to fly domestically on NWA, which has a tendency to mix stop in Memphis or Minneapolis in many of their itineraries.

When flying separate airlines just remember to leave plenty of time between flights, and if you’re checking in baggage, confirm that the airlines will transfer them to the other airline for you.

Unfortunately, for me, much of my savings went to the taxi toll to get to Ferihegy Airport.