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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
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?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer - Product Development

    £26000 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Product Development departm...

    Recruitment Genius: Assistant Manager - Visitor Fundraising

    £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Visitor Fundraising Team is responsi...

    Recruitment Genius: Developer

    £30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

    Recruitment Genius: Estates Contracts & Leases Manager

    £30000 - £34000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Estates Team of this group ...

    Day In a Page

    A groundbreaking study of 'Britain's Atlantis' long buried at the bottom of the North Sea could revolutionise how we see our prehistoric past

    Britain's Atlantis

    Scientific study beneath North Sea could revolutionise how we see the past
    The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember,' says Starkey

    The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember'

    David Starkey's assessment
    Oliver Sacks said his life has been 'an enormous privilege and adventure'

    'An enormous privilege and adventure'

    Oliver Sacks writing about his life
    'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

    'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

    The Rock's Chief Minister hits back at Spanish government's 'lies'
    Britain is still addicted to 'dirty coal'

    Britain still addicted to 'dirty' coal

    Biggest energy suppliers are more dependent on fossil fuel than a decade ago
    Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition

    Orthorexia nervosa

    How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
    Lady Chatterley is not obscene, says TV director

    Lady Chatterley’s Lover

    Director Jed Mercurio on why DH Lawrence's novel 'is not an obscene story'
    Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests

    Set a pest to catch a pest

    Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests
    Mexico: A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life

    The dark side of Mexico

    A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life
    Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde. Don't tell other victims it was theirs

    Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde

    Please don't tell other victims it was theirs
    A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

    A nap a day could save your life

    A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
    If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

    If men are so obsessed by sex...

    ...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
    The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

    Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

    The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
    The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

    Rolling in the deep

    The bathing machine is back but with a difference
    Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

    Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

    Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935