Simon Calder: Spilling the beans on air fares

The man who pays his way

As a prospective purchase, a tin of beans is the emotional opposite of booking a holiday. First, consider the sense of anticipation. An excursion to buy "Haricot Beans (49 per cent), Water, Tomato Puree (20 per cent), Sugar, Modified Maize Starch, Salt, Onion Powder, Paprika, Sunflower Oil, Flavouring" at Tesco does not have the same mouthwatering appeal as a trip to, say, the fair Scilly Isle of Tresco.

Next, the experience itself. Consuming a tin of Tesco beans (three for £1 if you buy by tomorrow) is unlikely to be as enriching as an indulgent weekend of in a city-beach destination such as Barcelona or Tel Aviv – see pages 14 to 16.

The third component of a purchase is the memory of it. And few people are likely to recall that beans-on-toast encounter in the kitchen with as warm a glow as they do that magical sunset in a far Pacific port while tucking into freshly grilled fish and sipping a chilled white wine.

Tinned food, though, has several important advantages over travel in terms of pricing. The cost of beans tends not to rise the closer you get to meal time. And neither does the price depend on the number of people ahead of you in the supermarket queue with an identical tin in their basket.

Ever since the travel industry discovered "yield management" – the dark art of squeezing the maximum possible revenue from each seat on an aircraft, or bed in a hotel – prices have wobbled more than a 35p Tesco raspberry jelly. So the revelation this week from the Office for National Statistics that air fares from Britain soared by 13.5 per cent in the year to December does not spell the end of cheap flying. Each of us has a personal consumer price index. A large chunk of mine is made up of air travel, so I am acutely aware of fare fluctuations over the past 15 years – which was when the low-cost revolution began. Since January 1996, the cost of the cheapest flight from Luton to Edinburgh has fallen by an annual rate of 1 per cent – easyJet charged a minimum of £29, compared with £24 now if you choose the right off-peak departure. The lowest price from Heathrow to Perth in April, the base fare for UK-Australia flights, has risen from £499 to £699, just above 2 per cent a year.

As always with damn lies and statistics, you may choose your own examples to demonstrate the opposite. But it is indisputable that anyone keen to grab the lowest fares – and flexible enough with their timing – can get air travel at rates that, in real terms, are substantially lower than 15 years ago. And that is despite the inexorable rise in Air Passenger Duty, which accounts for about one-eighth of the Perth fares and exactly half the hop to Edinburgh.

The past 15 years has seen hyper-inflation of a kind: the dramatic expansion of our horizons, and an increase in the range of origins and destinations. In 1996 a journey from Birmingham to Krakow would have involved a 24-hour bus ride, rather than the 90-minute flight, and cost more than the £42 you can grab on Ryanair for a flight next month. Jet2 is also piling them high and selling them cheap, for example Leeds/Bradford to Barcelona for £94. And to taste the best beans on the planet, fly with Thomson next Wednesday from Manchester to Cancun, for a deflationary £299 return.

Haricots, holidays and trips to Tunisia

Another difference between haricots and holidays: a supermarket is unlikely to say, after you order and pay for some beans, that "The government says we can't supply beans right now, but we're hanging on to your money in case the ban is lifted." Yet that is effectively what Thomas Cook and Tui (owner of Thomson and First Choice) are telling travellers with trips to Tunisia in March and April. While German clients of these companies can switch without penalty any bookings up to mid-April, British travellers departing after 16 February (for Tui) or 28 February (Thomas Cook) have no such rights. They can only wait and see if the Foreign Office warning against "all but essential travel" is eased before the departure date.

Meanwhile, Tunisia's website,, promises visitors "surprises, delights and the most amazing contrasts". Good news for those keen on pulse-based North African specialities such as chick-pea soup.

Suggested Topics
Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
Arts and Entertainment
The sight of a bucking bronco in the shape of a pink penis was too much for Hollywood actor and gay rights supporter Martin Sheen, prompting him to boycott a scene in the TV series Grace and Frankie
footballShirt then goes on sale on Gumtree
Terry Sue-Patt as Benny in the BBC children’s soap ‘Grange Hill’
voicesGrace Dent on Grange Hill and Terry Sue-Patt
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
Arts and Entertainment
Twin Peaks stars Joan Chen, Michael Ontkean, Kyle Maclachlan and Piper Laurie
tvName confirmed for third series
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
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?
Independent Dating

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Guru Careers: Events Coordinator / Junior Events Planner

    £24K + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking an Events Coordinator ...

    Royal Yachting Association Cymru Wales: Chief Executive Officer

    Salary 42,000: Royal Yachting Association Cymru Wales: The CEO is responsible ...

    Guru Careers: Marketing Manager / Marketing Communications Manager

    £35-40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Communicati...

    Ashdown Group: Technical IT Manager - North London - Growing business

    £40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A growing business that has been ope...

    Day In a Page

    Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

    Abuse - and the hell that follows

    James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
    Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

    It's oh so quiet!

    The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
    'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

    'Timeless fashion'

    It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
    If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

    Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

    Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
    New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

    Evolution of swimwear

    From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine