Airlines were accused last night of shamelessly ripping off football fans by hiking their fares to Paris for the Republic of Ireland's World Cup play-off against France next month by more than 1,000pc.
As the mad scramble for flights and match tickets got under way yesterday, flight fares soared by the hour as fans hit airline websites.
A consumer watchdog accused the carriers of adopting a policy of cashing in on destinations with a guaranteed demand while Fine Gael described the price hikes as a "shameless rip-off".
The party's sports spokesman, John O'Mahony claimed fans would rightfully feel aggrieved by this "obvious and unjustifiable rip-off" and that prices were "off the wall".
Within minutes of the away play-off venue in Paris on November 18 being announced, flights were hiked from €25 to €125, he said.
"Ryanair is charging €316 to fly out on either the 17th and 18th and fly back the day after the game," he said. "Flying Aer Lingus is no better, with the cost of travelling to the match on the same dates at least €390, and possibly €409.
"Ireland's draw against France took place at 1pm yesterday. At 12.45pm, the cost of a 17 November flight to Paris on the Ryanair website was €24.99 before taxes and charges.
"At 1.15pm it became €124.99. Aer Lingus flights to Paris on the same date were priced at €30 just three days ago and this morning they similarly ballooned in price," Mr O'Mahony added.
Consumers Association of Ireland spokesman Dermot Jewell said the surge in prices was yet another indication of the way consumers were being treated by airlines.
"The airlines have a policy of watching where there will be a guaranteed demand and then increasing their prices," he said.
"They are unapologetic about it. Whatever about supply and demand, once this happens any fairness in pricing policy goes out the window. It's a case of - if you want to go you'll pay dearly for it."
Aer Lingus defended the rocketing prices, saying it was subject to supply and demand and boasted that it had "swooped into action" after the World Cup draw by laying on extra flights.
Ryanair claimed it had "blocked off" all its flights to Paris at €150 one-way before the draw, and it promised to undercut Aer Lingus.
"There has been a huge surge in demand . . . particularly on the day of the match. Flights are being snapped up," said an Aer Lingus spokesperson.
The airline trumpeted its decision to lay on extra flights but didn't mention that fans would have to fork our more than €400 for their day trip.
It has laid on an Airbus A330 aircraft to provide an additional 327 seats on a day-return flight from Dublin to Paris on November 18, but this will set back fans a whopping €419. Within two hours, overnight trips rose from €319 to €389 and by 5pm yesterday, they had jumped again, to €409.
Aer Lingus corporate affairs director Enda Corneille said the airline was delighted to offer fans an opportunity to fly to the play-offs.
"We are offering over 2,000 seats between Ireland and Paris on the day of the match to facilitate the huge demand," he said.
Ryanair insisted that its "blocked off" fare of €150 one-way was still cheaper than Aer Lingus' fare of €165 one-way.
The no frills carrier said that in addition to its regular daily flights to Paris (Beauvais) from, Dublin and Shannon, it would operate extra flights the day of the play-off.
All seats on its extra flights to and from Paris would be at least €20 cheaper than Aer Lingus, with one-way flights from €125 (incl taxes and charges) -- €44 cheaper than Aer Lingus' current lowest one-way fare of €169.
Meanwhile, Travel Sports, the official agents for FAI supporters travel club, said it had "sold" one planeload of tickets in just three hours -- filling all 189 seats for a day trip to Paris.
The company is offering a one-day match package costing €325 which includes return flights, €76 taxes and all transfers to and from the airport to the game. A guaranteed match ticket at the face value will cost an extra €25 to €30.
An overnight trip, staying in a three-star hotel will cost €329 plus €76 tax, plus a face value match ticket.
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