Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The fuel surcharge scam

Regular travellers across the world have by now got used to the absurd division of airline fares between a meaningless 'base price' and an arbitrary 'fuel surcharge'. I call the surcharge arbitrary because it does not vary with the price of aviation turbine fuel. In the early days of the surcharge being put in place, travel websites would quote only the base fare, and those booking tickets would have to click through one or two screens before hitting the full ticket price.
The first website to quote complete fares up front was Cleartrip and, once I discovered it, I stuck with it: it was honest, easily navigable, offered good deals, didn't send out spam text messages, and had a Google-like simplicity to its GUI.
Recently I bought a ticket on Cleartrip which came with a 'free ticket' offer. The offer wasn't the reason I bought the ticket, but if it had been, I'd have ended up feeling cheated. Here's why. A few days after buying that ticket, I looked up fares to Goa. The 'free ticket' was restricted to SpiceJet, which quoted a price of about 2200 rupees on the Bombay-Goa sector, one-way. Go Air and Indigo offered virtually the same price. The fare break-up was, however, very different on the three airlines. Indigo's was something like: base fare, 900 rupees; fuel surcharge, 1000 rupees; taxes and levies, 300 rupees. Go Air's was: base fare 400 rupees; fuel surcharge, 1500 rupees; taxes and levies 300 rupees. SpiceJet had a base fare of exactly one rupee, and a fuel surcharge of 1900 rupees. So, taking up ClearTrip's free ticket offer, which applied only to the base fare, would have saved me a grand total of 100 paise. I chose to shell out the extra rupee and fly Indigo.

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