The actual booking didn’t relate to me at all. I had made the booking so that my dear lady wife could visit her sister, however, I had travelled with this carrier on numerous occasions so I have a well-developed opinion of them based on several years of travelling experience. As regular readers will know I’m not shy about giving my opinions.
The first thing they wanted to know was how happy I was with their new policy of allocating seats to passengers. Now, for anyone who travelled “pre-budget airline”, which I shall abbreviate to PBA in future, the idea of having an allocated seat on an aircraft is so normal that it seemed unreal that the airline should think this worthy of asking questions about. All
the more so because the airline had actually charged for allocating me, well my wife actually, a seat. That’s £5 each way, so another £10 on top of the “bargain” fare.
Then I realised that I wasn’t making a comparison between similar products, but making comparisons between dissimilar products. It then made me realise that what I had always thought of as a bargain wasn’t so much of a bargain after all.
To illustrate, let me use an analogy. Let’s say you need a new sofa so you go along to your local SofasRus big shed and you see one you like. It’s the right size, the right colour, the right degree of comfort. Then you look at the price tag and you see that it costs £700. Oh no. You can’t afford £700. So you go home sans sofa.
That evening you’re sat in front of the TV (on your dilapidated old sofa) and on comes the adverts. Tomorrow! SofasRus are having a sale. Yippee. The next day you hurry back and yes, there it is, the sofa you wanted to buy and now its
marked down to just £350. You reach for your credit card and ten minutes later you are the proud owner of a new sofa. You got a bargain.
But let’s try a slightly different angle. You hurry back and there’s your sofa, still marked at £700 so you still can’t afford
it. But sat next to it is something that looks like the same sofa but is marked at £350. However, on looking closer you can see that the upholstery isn’t as good quality, the cushions aren’t so well stuffed and when you sit on it you can
feel the frame digging into your bum and your back. Is it a bargain? No, of course not, because it’s a different sofa manufactured to a different quality standard. The fact that it looks similar to the higher quality product is irrelevant.
That’s why budget airlines aren’t a bargain, because they’re not selling the same product as the normal priced
Let’s start with the allocated seating. On Airline A you go to the check in and the helpful member of staff prints out your
boarding pass and there is your seat allocation. It was included as part of your booking. On Airline B you have a choice. You can check in on-line and print your boarding pass or you can pay a huge premium and check in at the airport. You can pay extra for allocated seating or you can take your chance. Maybe you and your partner will be able to sit together, or maybe you are in row 10 and he or she is in row 26, sandwiched between two sumo wrestlers who haven’t showered since 2005.
Then there’s food. On Airline A you get a meal if the flight is of more than a certain duration. On Airline B you have to buy your food, or eat before you board, or try to smuggle a sandwich past the guards, sorry, I mean boarding gate staff. OK, airline food isn’t the best in the world but having to pay extra for it just rubs salt into the wound.
If Airline A says it will fly you to Dusseldorf you will get off the aircraft and find that you are at Dusseldorf Airport.
Airline B, however, will take you to Dusseldorf (Weeze) Airport, which is actually 80 km from Dusseldorf in a straight line and there’s no direct train or bus service to Dusseldorf even when you take the local bus service to the small town of Weeze which is where the railway station is. Weeze is quite a nice little town by the way. I lived there for four years, but it isn’t Dusseldorf is it?
Finally there’s the baggage allowance. With Airline A you are able to actually pack a decent amount of clothing to take with you, and add books, tea bags, biscuits, snorkel and flippers and still have room for the five pairs of shoes your wife can’t fit into her own suitcase. On Airline B you pay extra for luggage, £15 for a 15kg bag, each way. So you have
to try to cram everything into a tiny carry-on bag. Result, you take less clothes, which means you spend a lot of time in the bathroom hand washing your undies in the sink and the balcony of your hotel room (and you paid extra to have a balcony) is festooned with dripping laundry when you want to sit on it and drink your G&T as you watch the sun go down. Of course you also had to spend hours traipsing around supermarkets to buy the gin and the tonic locally because you can’t put liquids in your carry-on luggage.
Now, is Airline B a bargain, or is it a different product entirely, provided to a different and much lower quality standard? I would argue that although they both involve aircraft and they both involve flying, they are very different products.
I won’t go into the surliness of the staff or how basic the seats are, the lack of leg room, the extortionate credit card charges (an extra £3 per passenger, each way) and all those other “hygiene” factors. I think I’ve made my point.
A bargain is only a bargain if you feel satisfied that the product you bought at the lower price is of the same quality as that which you could have purchased at the higher price. If you’re prepared to be treated like cattle and accept that you will be charged for breathing then saving a few quid by booking with Airline B may well be the option for you. For
me I’m starting to think that I’d rather spend a few pounds more and actually feel like the airline is pleased to see me and is trying hard to make me feel welcome.
I’ve also done a few price comparisons over recent years and found that I wouldn’t necessarily save money by flying “budget”. By the time I’d added in the cost of the “extras”, which may include longer travelling distances before departure or after arrival, I’m not actually making a significant saving. In some cases it would actually cost me more than flying
with a more traditional carrier.
That is perhaps where the budget airlines have done us all a favour. By introducing real competition into the travel market the traditional carriers have had to look at their pricing and have had to cut fares. On routes where there is little or no competition you’ll still pay through the nose to “fly scheduled”, but on routes to the more popular destinations such as Spain, Portugal, the Balearics, Canaries etc there is competition and its keeping prices down across the board, so it pays to shop around.
Another example of this variation in product quality to get a so called “bargain” is the purchase of e-books, especially for
Kindle. As a Kindle owner I always try to buy the e-book version (a) for convenience and (b) to be“greener”. I am a big Bernard Cornwall fan and when his latest book, The Pagan Lord, was released last year I wanted to buy it for my
Kindle (well, for me really but you know what I mean). It would be a Christmas treat for myself, I thought. However, the price of the Kindle version was just 45p lower than the hardback version. OK, so Amazon were charging less for the
hardback than I would have paid on the High Street, but that’s not the point. You can see where the money has gone on a hardback: the artwork, the paper, the printing, the distribution etc. and of course the author’s royalties and the
publisher’s profit. You can display this book on your shelf with pride.
But an e-book? It’s a collection of 1s and 0s that have no resale value and no aesthetic value other than in the story itself. So I decided to wait for the price to drop, as I knew it would.
Since then the paperback version has been published and of course the paper, printing and distribution, author’s royalties and publisher’s profit have once again cost money. So what is the new price differential? Surely the Kindle version is now cheaper than the paperback? Well, at today’s price The Kindle version is £4.99, the hardback is £7 and the
paperback is …. wait for it….. £4. Yes, the e-book is more expensive than the paperback. How does that work? I can also tell you that until two weeks ago there was still only a 45p difference between the Kindle version and the hardback. The price has only dropped because the paperback is now available. So which is the bargain? With free delivery it’s the paperback, so I bought that. Not very “green” I’ll grant you, it won’t save any trees, but please complain to Amazon and not to me. Dibs for the (free) used paperback once I have read it by e-mail only please.
Now, what really is a bargain are my books. Where else can you get quality like that at such a low price? They are only available on Kindle so you don’t have to worry about the hardback or paperback price differential, and they’re cheap. So why not treat yourself?
My thanks to those people who have risen to the challenge and suggested ideas for future blogs. I’ll e-mail you individually with your prizes and also to tell you the date on which I will post a blog based on your suggestions. The challenge is still on for anyone else who has ideas for blogs.