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Tuesday 8 March 2011

When Is A Fuel Surcharge Not A Surcharge?

The gulf between PR and the real world can be seen to excellent effect in the efforts of supposedly low fare airlines to not only generate custom, but along the way put the boot into their competitors. No carrier is more adept at both than our old friends at Ryanair, the Millwall of air carriers (everybody hates us and we don’t care).

Michael O’Leary’s finest are now part of the European Low Fares Airline Association (ELFAA), which explains the reduction in knocking copy aimed at the likes of EasyJet, Jet2, BMIBaby and the rest. But there are still the old hands at the charter carriers, like Thomas Cook and ThomsonFly, who are in effect in the same marketplace.

So the recent attack on these airlines, over fuel surcharges, should come as no surprise to anyone. Ryanair, routinely appointing themselves guardians of the high moral ground, have denounced Thomas Cook and ThomsonFly for “rip-off” fuel surcharges, detailing how much more it will cost the unfortunate punter to fly with these outfits.

The inference is clear: you should expect to pay less with Ryanair, especially as they have declared “Ryanair guarantees no fuel surcharges ever”. So let’s do a sample booking.

London to Palma de Mallorca (an ever popular destination), one person flying, outward travel March 18, return March 25, no preference for airport, no hold luggage, payment by Visa Debit card. Result? Ryanair from Stansted just over £166.50, and ThomsonFly from Gatwick just under £127.

That makes Ryanair significantly more expensive. If ThomsonFly were to apply the £15 fuel surcharge that Ryanair allege will be added to flights of less than three hours’ duration, that would still make ThomsonFly almost 25 quid cheaper. Moreover, Gatwick is probably more convenient to those around central London.

And that answers the question “when is a fuel surcharge not a surcharge”: with Ryanair, the price just gets hiked to a level that covers the fuel cost. One can expect nothing less, given that Michael O’Leary is not running a charity.

The moral of the story? Don’t believe the PR guff, don’t assume “low cost” means less expensive, and do your own comparisons. Result!

[Sample fares were investigated March 8, at between 1630 and 1700 hours GMT]

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