Why a $1,400 Ticket Can Cost You More Than a $1,800 Ticket

Travel Tips

Fuel surcharges can camouflage the real cost of airline tickets, Michael Taylor discovers as he books a flight from Hong Kong to Bangkok to attend the Digital Innovation Asia Bloggers Match-up.

When I search for an airline ticket to attend the Digital Innovation Asia Bloggers Match-up in Bangkok, Thailand, I do a flexible flight search on Zuji-com to determine the cheapest round trip ticket between Hong Kong and Bangkok.

The lowest priced ticket is operated by Royal Jordanian Airlines. It departs on my desired travel date, which is a Sunday, and returns on a Sunday 15 days later. It costs HK$1,400.

I would prefer to return on the following day, but the cheapest ticket on that date – which is operated by Emirates – is HK$1,800 – roughly US$50 more.

I decide to book the HK$1,400 ticket. When I try to make my purchase, however, I discover that the price is actually HK$2,200 rather than HK$1,400.

Say what? Oh! The taxes and fuel surcharges need to be added to the quoted price.

Never on a Sunday

After thinking things over, I decide that I really would rather return on Monday than Sunday – even if it is going to cost me HK$400 more.

When I start to purchase my ticket this time, however, the price comes to HK$2,100, which is HK$100 CHEAPER than the ticket that was supposed to be HK$400 more expensive. That roughly works out to a savings of US$12.50.

At this point I am totally confused. Aren’t taxes linked to the price of a ticket? And what about fuel surcharges and other fees – aren’t they either a flat amount or based on a percentage of the price of the ticket?

Apparently not, I discover. The added charges on the two flights are totally different!

Fully HK$800, or roughly US$100, is added to the price of the HK$1,400 ticket while only HK$300, or US$36, is added to the price of the HK$1,800 ticket.

So the more expensive ticket is actually cheaper than the less expensive ticket as far as the ticket buyer is concerned.

This is despite the fact that the two flights are departing from and arriving at the exact same two airports!

DIA Bloggers Match-up

I discuss this issue with some travel industry insiders at the Digital Innovation Asia Bloggers Match-up in Bangkok and discover that some airlines do, in fact, use fuel surcharges to confuse consumers.

In countries such as the United States, there is some degree of transparency, but this protection is not universal. Airlines do, in fact, sometimes use fuel surcharges to camouflage the actual price that consumers are going to pay.

Moral of story …

When comparing the price of airline tickets, make sure you are comparing the price of the ticket and all other charges – taxes, fees, and any other costs that you will have to pay – and not just the price of the ticket

You don’t always get what you think you are paying for.

In Case You Didn’t Know …

A flexible search, in case you don’t know, creates a grid showing the lowest priced ticket on various flight combinations on the actual dates plus three days before and after the desired travel dates.

That works out to as many as 49 combinations. The cheapest priced ticket appears on each combination of dates, and the cheapest ticket of all is highlighted in red.


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