web Musings of The Global Traveller

Friday, January 20, 2006

Fuel surcharges

Anyone who has bought an air ticket from a non-US airline in the past few years may have noticed the "taxes" are a significant cost. Some of these taxes are genuine charges from a government agency, however some are charges invented by the airline.

Since the cost of fuel increased rapidly a few years ago, most airlines have been charging something called a fuel surcharge. When it was introduced the airlines kept it separate from the rest of the air fare, supposedly on the grounds of transparency and so the consumer can see it reduce when fuel prices eventually fall. But of course fuel prices have not fallen back to the old levels. And so the fuel surcharge has been increased time and time again.

It has now reached the point, where on many fares the surcharge equals or exceeds the base air fare. See a special advertised at $79? Dont be suckered in, add the surcharges of perhaps $90 and that great deal suddenly doesnt seem as good.

Something that really bugs me, and many other travellers I know, is how the airlines get away with this deception. When you buy a cup of coffee you dont get charged a Brazilian frost surcharge to cover temporarily higher costs if there are significant crop losses. No that cup of coffee just costs a little extra until supply is restored. Buying gas at the station, they dont advertise a base price of $x per gallon and a surcharge of an extra $y, do they?

So why should the airlines be any different? Fuel is a fundamental cost of doing business for an airline. Shouldnt this be included in the base air fare?

Some airlines have argued that they can change a surcharge much more easily than the many thousands of different fares that they charge. I dont think that washes though. How many times has the fuel surcharge dropped when fuel prices dip? Not often. How many times do airlines change fares anyway? I seem to get emails about sales and specials just about every day. So it would seem air fares change frequently anyway.

How can the airlines get away with advertising a low price that has nothing to do with what you end up paying? Isnt that deceptive? Shouldn't the relevant authorities - advertising fairness boards and commerce commissions - be doing something about this?

Fun travels everyone
The Global Traveller

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