Lately I’ve been making arrangements for some spring and summer vacations. Scheduling trips, planning to meet with various friends and making reservations with hotels is always a challenge, but it’s worth it in the end. However, choosing and buying airline tickets is a uniquely frustrating experience.
It’s bad enough to try to figure out which airport to go to, which airline to fly, when to leave, when to come back and how many connections are acceptable. The apparent randomness of the pricing model makes getting a decent fare feel like an exercise in futility. Usually, I try to balance comfort and convenience (not having to make 5 connections, not having a 14 hour layover in Pittsburgh, not competing for general admission seats on Southwest) with reasonable price. So I make an attempt to leave at less popular times of the day. I try to fly into and out of major airports. I am relatively flexible about which airlines I’ll fly.
But in the end, it still never seems to matter. Most recently, my girlfriend and I spent probably 30 minutes on Expedia.com trying different options to find a good price with a schedule that accomodates both of us. We finally found it, went through the ordering process and at the end were told that the price had changed and we’d have to pay $40 more. Uh, I don’t think so! At first I thought we must have just taken too long to get through the pipeline. So I found the flight again (still listed at the original lower price) and went through the entire process as quickly as possible. Once again, they raised the price at the very end of the order. At that point, we gave up and went directly to the airline’s website and bought the tickets there. For a few bucks less than even Expedia’s lower price.
KARE11 in Minneapolis has done some fascinating research into airline pricing (link thanks to Al’s Morning Meeting). They did a survey of people on a Northwest Airlines flight. Sixty-five people responded to their survey and from those, there were 50 unique prices for the flight. Even more amazing, an airline analyst KARE11 spoke to found 1,369 possible fares for the flight they’d studied. This is a flight with only 124 seats! If you do any airline travel at all, I encourage you to go read entire article.