The plane ticket extras that really make me grind
Josh Martin is a Kiwi journalist based in London.
OPINION: You’ve scoured the internet for the best deal, you’re convinced that the 4am departure will be worth it and a nine-hour layover is bearable, so congratulations, the seats are all yours, the all for the low price of $499.
Oh, and the extra $20 for having the audacity to pay by debit or credit card. What did you think it was, 2022? But in my recent experience, card payment charges – a delight reserved exclusively for Antipodean airlines – don’t come close to the worst examples of daring surcharges that online travel agents (OTAs), Cheap car hire and airlines are now trying and convincing us are essential to the success of a trip abroad.
And just as I was chock-full of goodwill towards the tourism industry, I am given another reason to be wary.
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Paying extra for checked baggage has been a mainstay of modern air travel for over a decade. However, the list of add-ons offered when searching for return flights to Aotearoa extended to: $25 or $50 for an upgrade to a ‘silver’ or ‘gold’ service pack, which would mean shorter wait times for the call center if I needed to contact someone on these flights and reduced administration fees for flight changes or refunds (even though the airline itself has deleted).
There was also insurance offered for around $500 for two travellers, again promising the benefits of free rebooking and permitted changes due to Covid, already guaranteed by the airline anyway. Add an additional $16 for the travel agent to convey the message that two people traveling together would like to sit together (but no guarantee!).
Are you worried that the flight will be delayed and you will miss out on compensation? Just pay an extra $32 and an OTA will help you file a claim through another company called AirHelp. You can do it yourself with the airline, or just Google “AirHelp”, but that’s apparently too difficult for some.
And if you can’t worry about Google owed money, you probably can’t bother searching for the necessary visas for your trip. Luckily, a MyTrip OTA offers to email you a link for whatever you might need, all for $78 each. It doesn’t matter that my US transit visa only costs about $20.
It is this duplication that grinds my gears the most. And in these unstable times, online travel agents must capitalize on the confusion of infrequent travelers into thinking they have to pay an extra $14 middleman for each leg of the trip to get the message to the airline. whether you are gluten-free or vegan. , or baggage tracking insurance when they only have carry-on baggage.
Yes, it’s another $20 extra for the OTA to connect you with a company that “helps you track lost baggage for up to 96 hours.” If your bag is not returned by then, you will receive US$500”. This is despite the fact that airlines and airport service companies do the same and that the usual travel insurance covers lost or delayed baggage as standard.
If I had said “yes” to every extra offered, that initially cheaper airfare would have gone up an additional $800 per person. Even saying “yes” to a few of the more reasonable offers would still mean the quote would exceed those on the airline’s official website.
Their continued existence shows that the offer of online travel agents appeals to some, even though many travelers switch to the official airline’s online check-in system before flying.
Airlines may take some of the blame for this industry scam, as they use complex pricing algorithms – known in the industry as “dynamic pricing”.
This basically means that the person sitting in seat 36K paid for a different plane ticket than in seat 36J. In fact, it doesn’t even have to be a different person, the same two airlines combining to fly you around the world can offer very different quotes.
You can assume that a round trip from London Heathrow to Auckland via San Francisco with Virgin Atlantic flying the first leg and then switching to an Air New Zealand plane for the transpacific leg would be charged the same on the each carrier’s website, given the exact same dates and same aircraft? No.
On Virgin, my airfare quote came in at around $1900. The same trip, class, plane, seat – heck, I’d even promise to watch the same movies and eat the same meal – was quoted at $4,175 on the New Zealand flag carrier.
I’m sure the finance department can explain why this is a great idea for airlines, but as a customer it doesn’t make sense, so to find easily decipherable and comparable airfares, OTAs have remained afloat long after the prophecies of their demise began. .
I admit it’s a fine line: the day you snub travel insurance will be the only time you’ll need it (but it’s better to shop separately for a comprehensive policy rather than an add-on as part of a package). ‘a booking), and in today’s volatile environment, many vacationers will gladly throw in cash for peace of mind.
Buyer beware, as the travel industry embarks on the road to recovery, there are scammers again.