Airline Prices: Flights of fancy

The OFT is threatening to get tough on how airline prices are advertised. Ian Taylor reports

Ryanair has built its business on ensuring its headline fares - the first prices you see - are rarely beaten. These have seldom been the fares you actually pay, as tax and charges may be added later, although the final price may still be a bargain. But now the Office of Fair Trading has promised to crack down on web prices that do not include everything a purchaser has to pay.

Optional extras, such as meals or an allocated seat, can be excluded. However, taxes and fuel supplements must be part of any published fare or "price indication".

The OFT warned it would get tough three months ago, issuing a deadline that expired on Thursday. It did so in agreement with the travel agents' and tour operators' association, Abta, which has begun checking members' websites and threatens fines and possible expulsion for those failing to comply.

The practice of separating all kinds of charges from the price you initially see has become widespread - often justified by the claim that it brings transparency. Fuel supplements - a charge Ryanair and other budget carriers do not levy - are among the most contentious additions.

Most tour operators have been adding £30 to advertised prices for a short-haul trip and £65 for long-haul, justifying the supplement by the increased cost of fuel, although the price of oil has been at its current level for two years.

In general, tour operators are more constrained by regulations than airlines when it comes to price displays. However, the country's biggest travel company TUI, which includes Thomson Holidays, called for action against its competitors last week, complaining about the number of supplementary costs being added to holidays. Derek Jones, director of sales, said prices were misleading and customers were being "ripped off".

Ryanair responded to the OFT's tougher regime by announcing it would comply and then offering millions of flights at £10 each including tax. The offer could mean the airline ends up paying for people to fly if the tax and charges it has been adding up to now are anything to go by.

On the day the OFT deadline expired, Ryanair was offering Stansted-Berlin flights this month from £24.99 each way. However, the tax and charges added in the course of booking came to £38.44, plus £1.40 for using a debit and £3.50 for a credit card.

There was also a £10-per-bag charge for luggage. So, book with a card, as you must, and the cheapest possible return fare was not £49.98, but £78.28. With a credit card and a bag it came to £90.38.

Other carriers have been doing pretty much the same thing. An easyJet flight from Luton to Berlin the same day also displayed fares excluding tax, but added a lower amount of £25 during the booking process - plus £1 for debit and £4.95 for credit cards. By contrast, British Airways amended its site last year to show fares inclusive of tax and charges from the outset.

The OFT now expects all airlines and travel firms to follow suit on the grounds that "misleading price indications make it difficult for consumers to compare prices".

An OFT spokesman said: "Failure to comply will result in enforcement action" - potentially leading to court orders and fines. The move led the Abta chief executive, Mark Tanzer, to declare: "The days of the 1p flight have gone."

So which charges are non-optional and which can you expect to see outside an advertised fare? Taxes such as air passenger duty - £10 on an economy flight in Europe and £40 beyond - are non-optional, as are fuel supplements, security and airport charges. Abta says credit-card charges and the ticket-on-departure fees often added to late bookings should also be included in prices.

Credit-card fees will continue to be extra, as will baggage and meal charges on some airlines; the flight supplements sometimes charged from regional airports; and under-occupancy charges on some room bookings. If you feel you have been misled, the OFT and Abta are waiting to hear from you.

News
Young Winstone: His ‘tough-guy’ image is a misconception
people
Sport
Adnan Januzaj and Gareth Bale
footballManchester United set to loan out Januzaj to make room for Bale - if a move for the Welshman firms up
Arts and Entertainment
Ellie Levenson’s The Election book demystifies politics for children
bookNew children's book primes the next generation for politics
News
Outspoken: Alexander Fury, John Rentoul, Ellen E Jones and Katy Guest
newsFrom the Scottish referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
i100
Sport
Yaya Sanogo, Mats Hummels, Troy Deeney and Adnan Januzaj
footballMost Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
Arts and Entertainment
L to R: Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Captain America (Chris Evans) & Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) in Avengers Assemble
film
News
Nigel Farage celebrates with a pint after early local election results in the Hoy and Helmet pub in South Benfleet in Essex
peopleHe has shaped British politics 'for good or ill'
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams' “Happy” was the most searched-for song lyric of 2014
musicThe power of song never greater, according to our internet searches
Sport
Tim Sherwood raises his hand after the 1-0 victory over Stoke
footballFormer Tottenham boss leads list of candidates to replace Neil Warnock
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Arts and Entertainment
Sink the Pink's 2013 New Year's Eve party
musicFour of Britain's top DJs give their verdict on how to party into 2015
Voices
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers
voicesIt has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Arts and Entertainment
Roffey says: 'All of us carry shame and taboo around about our sexuality. But I was determined not to let shame stop me writing my memoir.'
books
News
i100
News
Caplan says of Jacobs: 'She is a very collaborative director, and gives actors a lot of freedom. She makes things happen.'
people
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Personal Trainer / PT - OTE £30,000 Uncapped

    £25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

    Investigo: Finance Analyst

    £240 - £275 per day: Investigo: Support the global business through in-depth a...

    Ashdown Group: Data Manager - £Market Rate

    Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Data Manager - MySQL, Shell Scripts, Java, VB Scrip...

    Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - Bedfordshire/Cambs border - £32k

    £27000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - near S...

    Day In a Page

    War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

    The West needs more than a White Knight

    Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
    Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

    'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

    Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
    The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

    The stories that defined 2014

    From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
    Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

    Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

    Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
    Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

    Finally, a diet that works

    Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
    Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

    Say it with... lyrics

    The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
    Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

    The joys of 'thinkering'

    Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
    Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

    Monique Roffey interview

    The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
    Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

    Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

    Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
    DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

    Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

    It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
    Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

    How we met

    Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

    Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

    Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
    Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

    Who does your club need in the transfer window?

    Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
    The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015