Sunday, 22 January 2012

Airline ticket pricing: surcharges compared

Lots of regulations and restrictions have been enforced in Europe, and some other parts of the world, to "keep airplane tickets transparent".
You must know from your own situation or someone else's how that too-good-to-be-true 200 dollar one-week trip to the sun turned out to be 550 after all extra charges (that applied to your particular situation of course!) got slapped on, only to find out that airport bagage rules and local customs had to get their share of the pie too. Oh well, so it cost 700 dollars in stead, but it sure was fun, wasn't it?

Damn right it was - for them

Since then, efforts have been made to ensure that advertised prices are end-prices - meaning nothing else gets slapped onto. And that has worked: the devil is now in different details

Let's book a few flights: plan that at least 6 weeks ahead so we don't get increased cost for being (close to) out of time, and let's make sure we don't enter some difficult period like around Christmas or new year's Eve and all that, when demand is high, supply stays the same, so prices go up. Ready?
It's Amsterdam to New York and back, from 21st of March till 4th of April

KLM: no matter whether you travel cheap, expensive, or far, KLM has very clear rules for surcharges. Booking a few flights in different directions and Economy and Business Class confirms that. For the example trip, there's a surcharge of € 324,86 in all cases where fuel surcharge is maxed out at twice € 125

BA: British Airways has a brief note on surcharges that spells out booking fee rates for half a dozen countries and currencioes, but leaves you in the dark about surcharges. They don't offer direct flights, Heathrow is used as intermediary stop, and UK passenger service charge is € 49,79. Total surcharge for Economy is € 364,65, for Business Class and First Class it's € 424,65 - now that's odd, isn't it? The difference is in € 300 fuel surcharge, in stead of € 240.
If you read BA's very undetailed note on surcharges, you'll see that it says
The (fuel) surcharge is based on flight duration and applies to all passengers, including children and infants travelling on British Airways operated international and domestic services
Well, not equally, apparently. For some reason you use more fuel when you fly Business or First class, and end up paying 25% more

Lufthansa: has a FAQ on surcharges, can't copy the URL as there is none, but rest assured: it is only telling that there are surcharges of various kinds, that will be shown during booking.
Lufthansa sticks to the exact same amount as KLM, € 324,86 in all cases. On a sidenote it's fairly scandalous how they dare slap on an extra 10 euro Ticket Service Charge on even a € 8,531.86 First Class flight

These three all have the following surcharges in common:

Animal & Plant Health User Fee (Aphis) - USA€ 3.91
Customs User Fee -USA€ 4.30
Immigration User Fee - USA€ 5.48
Noise Isolation Charge - Netherlands€ 2.00
Passenger Civil Aviation Security Service Fee - USA€ 1.96
Passenger Facility Charge - USA€ 3.52
Passenger Service Charge - Netherlands€ 14.89
Security Service Charge - Netherlands€ 12.68
Transportation Tax (Arrival) - USA€ 13.06
Transportation Tax (Departure) - USA€ 13.06

So all in all everyone uses the exact same surcharges for everything (€ 74.86 for government, authority and airport charges), save British Airlines that charges an additional € 49.79 for their mandatory stop in Heathrow, and charges € 240 versus € 250 per Economy passenger, while charging Business / First Class passengers € 300

Now, let's cross the pond, and see what the same trip would cost: picking Delta, United and American Airlines. Skipping Southwest as they don't fly Amsterdam

Delta: very informative on the surcharges, although the word fuel is not mentioned there. You get a nice break-down of surcharges during booking, and it is interesting to see that they don't pay the US transportation tax their European counterparts do. If you add all their taxes, you get to the same € 250 for fuel (which they call International Surcharge by the way) as mentioned above, but only € 48.74 for government, authority and airport charges - the € 13.06 for each journey (€ 26.12 for a round-trip) is absent

United: a lot worse than Delta. here's how precise they get about the biggest piece of the pie:
Fare includes U.S. excise tax, and carrier-imposed fuel surcharges (YQ) of up to 300.00 USD per direction of travel may apply. For travel to some countries, additional airport, transportation, embarkation, security and passenger service taxes/surcharges may also apply depending on destination
That's not very helpful, is it? So they end up with "Additional taxes and fees" of only $ 62.10 on Economy and $ 69.10 on Business / First, which is misleading to say the least. If you read the small print they speak the truth (and find out the surcharges are mostly hidden in the ticket price), but it's customer-offensive behaviour no matter which way you put it.
If they treat you like this at this point, you'll know what to expect beyond. Don't fly United, I'd say

American Airlines: like United, there is nothing to be found on surcharges, and it costs a few clicks to find out they charge $ 158.90 (Economy) and $ 143.10 (Business / First) "extra". It's equally impossible to find anything in general, let alone specific, via their web site's search engine. After a lot of search, a full list is found that shows all details about all terms used, and apparently even the place you use to book from influences the fuel surcharges.
Hiding surcharges into ticket price, just like United does? Revolting

Let's try to reverse the situation, shall we? Book the same flight, but then from NYC to AMS. Well, you can't do that with KLM or BA, only with Lufthansa

Lufthansa: Surcharges are awkward, and if I use an exchange rate of 1.28 I can perfectly relate them back, except for the Netherlands taxes, but that's highly likely because of differing exchange rates. What is very surprising, however, is the fact that all of a sudden the fuel surcharge is € 372 - close to 50% more than the same trip vice versa

Delta: same charges. Exactly the same
United and American? Same absence of transparency as above, so the verdict remains the same: don't fly these airlines - if they lie at you even before you started a transaction with them, Lawd knows what will happen next

Surcharges? Many of them, and I didn't even pay attention to luggage charges or local charges.
It shows that many surcharges are fixed globally or at least on a slightly smaller scale. However, there seems to be room for interpretation (...) and thus supercharge, and it all goes into the fuel post. If they don't show that at all, it's there. If they have a post called "International Surcharge", you'll know that means Fuel surcharge

What I don't understand though, is why fuel surcharge based on the same journey costs 50% more when starting from the US - and why US airlines are exempt from their own transportation tax to begin with

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