Simon Calder: If the risks in Libya don't put you off, the fares might

The man who pays his way

Bums on seats: bluntly, that is the business plan of the airline industry. You publish a flying schedule, then hope that enough people will be prepared to pay enough to meet your costs and perhaps generate a profit. Sadly, this last achievement eluded Bmibaby: the no-frills airline is shutting down this summer.

You deploy the dark art of yield management: adjusting fares over time to squeeze the most revenue from each seat. With this technique you aim to sell the very last seat a few hours before departure to someone who is desperate to travel. It will be a "distress purchase", and therefore they will not object to paying several times the fare that the early-booking cheapskates seized many months ago.

Example: a month today I fly from Gatwick to Athens, on an easyJet flight that I booked in February for £198 return. The fare has risen by £40 so far, and is likely to increase steeply in the week or two before departure.

Yet the pricing for one particular route of the same length (just less than 1,500 miles) breaks this long-established pattern.

On May Day, British Airways flight 898 took off from Heathrow airport, about an hour late. The airline won't tell me how many people were aboard, but I bet it was less than half full. It was the first BA flight to the Libyan capital, Tripoli, since the route was suspended when hostilities broke out 16 months ago.

Until flights were axed, the going rate for an economy seat was around £300 return – much more than the price for a similar distance, say, Athens, but not bad considering the "niche" destination. But today, even if you book six months ahead for the quietest day (Tuesday) in the middle of the lowest-season month (November), the least you will pay is £770 return. That is £100 more than the fare to Hong Kong or Los Angeles and back on BA, and almost enough to fly a family of five to Athens and back.

What's going on? BA recognises that no one will be on that flight for fun. Just a line from the Foreign Office list of reasons to avoid Libya: "There has been celebratory gunfire since the revolution and a number of fatalities as a result of rounds falling from the sky." And the official advice saying "don't go" has the effect of invalidating travel insurance cover.

So who will be on board? This thrice-weekly service is aimed squarely at three constituencies: government officials, charity workers and NGO staff, and business travellers trying to cash in on the rebuilding of Libya.

Tourists need not apply

BA's four busiest destinations from London? The airline wasn't able to tell me, but looking at the frequency and size of aircraft I'd put money on New York being top of the list, followed by Amsterdam, Madrid and Edinburgh. But I was more interested in the airline's least-popular targets, the places that simply aren't aimed at tourists. The best way to identify them: to check the fare-per-mile.

So, I took a spin through the schedules and took an educated guess at which had the least appeal. (The addition last month of BMI made this task easier, since it includes all manner of former Soviet capitals.) The index I chose was minimum November fare divided by distance from London; for a "control" to a mainstream tourist destination, I used that Athens price, which works out at 11p per mile.

The Balkan cities of Pristina and Tirana look a bargain at 13p and 14p respectively; Bishkek is the cheapest ex-USSR oddity at 18p; the three oil destinations of Bahrain, Riyadh and Kuwait are lined up at 20p; Baku, home of Eurovision, is 24p; Luanda, which a former BA boss summed up to me as "gold, diamonds and oil", stands at 28p.

Armenia's capital, Yerevan, piles on the pounds at 31p – but Tripoli is way out of line at 53p per mile.

If this new route is anything to go by, BA's strategy appears to be changing: instead of serving places that almost everyone wants to visit, it appears that there is more money to be made flying to places that almost no one wants to visit.

The next big adventure?

In time, when peace properly returns, Libya has the capacity to astonish visitors, with fabulous classical ruins at Leptis Magna, amazing desert scenery and, most intriguingly of all, hundreds of miles of untouched seashore all within three hours' flying time.

The neighbouring countries of Egypt and Tunisia must be looking over their shoulder at Libya's potential – but for overland tourists wanting some new thrills, Alexandria in Egypt to Tunis, along the shore of Libya, looks a great adventure.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tvWhy BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
News
people
News
Campbell: ‘Sometimes you have to be economical with the truth’
newsFormer spin doctor says MPs should study tactics of leading sports figures like José Mourinho
Sport
football
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Life and Style
Alexander McQueen's AW 2009/10 collection during Paris Fashion Week
fashionMeet the collaborators who helped create the late designer’s notorious spectacles
News
i100
News
Perry says: 'Psychiatrists give help because they need help. You would not be working in mental health if you didn't have a curiosity about how the mind works.'
people
Life and Style
Stepping back in time: The Robshaws endured the privations of the 1950s
food + drinkNew BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain
News
Google celebrates St David's Day 2015
newsWales' patron saint is believed to have lived in the 6th century
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: Car Sales Executive - OTE £36,000

    £12500 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This established Knaresborough ...

    Beverley James: Accounts Payable

    £23,000: Beverley James: Do you have a background in hospitality and are you l...

    Recruitment Genius: Cleaning Manager - York and Bradford

    £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The post holder is a key member of the V...

    Recruitment Genius: Vehicle Breakdown Recovery Drivers

    £18000 - £28800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Vehicle Breakdown Recovery Driv...

    Day In a Page

    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
    A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

    It's not easy being Green

    After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
    Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

    Gorillas nearly missed

    BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
    Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

    The Downton Abbey effect

    Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
    China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

    China's wild panda numbers on the up

    New census reveals 17% since 2003
    Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

    Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

    Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
    Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

    Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

    Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
    Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

    Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

    Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
    New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

    Dinner through the decades

    A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
    Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

    Philippa Perry interview

    The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

    Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

    Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
    Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

    Harry Kane interview

    The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
    The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?