December 30, 2008

How much does a 'free' flight cost?

I booked a flight today. The flight was from the UK to Spain sometime early next year. The reason I booked it: it was free.

That's right, free - the advertised cost for that flight was £0.00. With the imposed duties and taxes the amount I should pay is £20. A great deal. I was delighted.

Having made the, admittedly easy, decision to purchase I clicked on the site to book the ticket. It took me to a page I've never seen on airline booking sites before. It started asking questions:

  • Was I going to be checking bags? Yes. So you'll need to check in at the airport. That's £4 each way for airport check in.
  • How many bags are you checking in? One. That's £8 each way for the first bag and £16 each way for subsequent bags.
  • Do you want to be on of the first to board the plane? Yes. That's £8 each way for priority boarding.
  • Will you be taking any sports equipment? Yes, golf clubs. That's £25 each way.

Each question I answered added extra cost to the flight. Each question I answered reduced my faith in the customer service of the airline. Each question I answered annoyed me more and more.

The terms and conditions of flight for this airline is over 6000 words long. Each paragraph details something that either reduces the airlines liability, increases the passengers liablility or increases the cost. (note these are not the general terms and conditions, these are just the terms and conditions related to actual flights with this airline)

The terms and conditions of flight are where you find, for example, that this airline charges you for checking in at the airport. You can check in on-line for free, unless you have luggage in which case you will need to check in at the airport. If you want to take hand luggage (which is the only way to avoid the check-in fee), it should weigh no more than 10kg and not exceed the maximum dimensions of 55cm x 40cm x 20cm. (That's a little less than 2 feet by a little more than 1 foot by 7 inches deep). Thank God I'm not taking more than one bag on board, nor do I have children with cots and buggies. These would have been extra and - God forbid I needed to take my own oxygen - this would have cost me £100 each way.

So when they totaled up the fare, my 'free' flight was going to cost upwards of £100. As I stifled the desire to throw my Macbook out the window I clicked the 'purchase now' button... only to find another £4 added to the cost! This, apparently, was a 'processing fee' for paying by credit card. Over the internet. Which is the only way to pay this airline when booking over the internet.

If it costs £4 to book a flight over the internet, the flight is not free. It can never be free. The cheapest it can be is £4!

I've mentioned in the past how behavioural psychologists should do more work for the airlines. This airline surely doesn't understand customer behaviours.

Yes, £100 for a return trip from the UK to Spain is still excellent value, I understand that. But £100, a disgruntled customer and a misleading airline pricing structure, for a 'free' flight is not on.

What would have been nicer is to do the following:
  • Cost of air fare: £180 return
  • Are you checking less than 3 bags? Yes: Let's deduct £50
  • Are you taking golf clubs? Yes: Price is included
  • Are you wanting priority boarding? No: Let's deduct £16
  • Are you checking in on-line? Yes: Let's deduct £8

Total price £100. Result: One cheap air fare. One happy customer and one airline getting exactly what it asked for.

(Picture courtesy of Irishflyguy. Released under a Creative Commons attribution, share-alike license)

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