web Musings of The Global Traveller

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

An example of deceptive airline price marketing

Deceptive airline price marketing is nothing new, but it annoys me from time to time. Here is a recent example from British Airways.

British Airways today launched its ever popular ‘London for Free’, offering two
nights’ free hotel in London. ‘London for Free’ offers travellers
two nights’ free hotel accommodation at select three and four star hotels in
central London when purchasing roundtrip airfares between the U.S. and the
U.K. Roundtrip airfares begin at $312 between New York (JFK or Newark) and

So $312 gets airfare from New York to London and 2 nights accommodation. Seems simple enough.

Comparable airfares are available from all 18 British Airways’
U.SA. cities. Travelers also have the option to upgrade to World Traveller
Plus, the airline’s premium economy cabin for an additional fee.
Prices are available for sale through Thursday midnight (EST), Jan. 29,
2009. Travel is valid from Jan. 27, 2009, through March 22, 2009.

Pay more from cities other than New York, or for World Traveller Plus cabin.

London hotels participating in ‘London For Free’ include the Royal National,
President, Best Western Burns, Jurys Inn Chelsea, Holiday Inn Kensington Forum,
Rembrandt, Thistle Euston, Thistle Barbican, Fraser Place Queens Gate Apartments
and Holiday Inn Regents Park. The two free hotel nights are based on
double occupancy; single occupants are offered one free hotel night.
So 2 free nights is only for 2 people booked together (or 4 if staying at Royal National Hotel), otherwise it is 1 free night.
World Traveller and World Traveller Plus roundtrip fares must be booked and
purchased seven days in advance and are non-refundable. Fares may be
higher for other travel dates and from other U.S. departure gateways.
Some fare restrictions and clarifying that it is indeed more expensive from places other than New York, or outside the sale period.

Weekend (Thursday-Sunday) surcharge applies at $30 each way.
Pay $30 more each way to travel on 4 days of the week.
Fares are subject to government approval and do not include government fees and
taxes from approximately $150 and a $2.50 September 11th Security Fee.
The headline fare excludes taxes and fees - which are about half as much again as the fare. The T&Cs on the BA website refer to "approximately $150-250" in taxes + the September 11th Security Fee. The email of course does not mention $250 in taxes anywhere but hides behind the word from.
Minimum stay of Saturday night is required and maximum stay is 11 months.
So everyone has to stay at least 4 nights in London or pay up to $60 more than the headline fare. Remember only 2 (or 1) nights are free.
Hotel accommodation must be booked and purchased with British Airways roundtrip
published airfare originating in the U.S. during the promotional period. Other
significant restrictions apply.
What are the significant other restrictions?
Further information on this promotion and other British Airways offers are
available by visiting the airline’s website,

The website gives some clues of further restrictions. Non-refundable. $200 change fee on top of the difference to fares available at the time the change is made. All changes after 29 January result in forfeiture of free hotel nights, and if you still want to stay at the selected hotel there is an admin fee of $25.

Where does that leave us? For most people the real cost is at least $494 ($312 + $150 + $2.50 + $30), and they may only get 1 free night. A lot of people would jump at a trans-atlantic fare of $494 that includes a free night accommodation in London, so why bother hiding a lot of surcharges and terms in the fine print? Not very customer friendly in my view.

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