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, cometotunisia.co.uk, 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
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
  • Get to the point
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

    SFL Group: Video Project Manager

    £24,000 pa, plus benefits: SFL Group: Looking for a hard-working and self-moti...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel Reservations Assistant - French Speaking

    £16000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This rapidly expanding travel c...

    Recruitment Genius: Duty Manager - World-Famous London Museum

    £24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Do you have a strong record of ...

    Recruitment Genius: Personal Assistant

    £24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will have demonstrable unde...

    Day In a Page

    The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

    The saffron censorship that governs India

    Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
    Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

    How did fandom get so dark?

    Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
    The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
    The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

    Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

    Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
    Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

    Disney's mega money-making formula

    'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
    Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

    Lobster has gone mainstream

    Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
    Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

    14 best Easter decorations

    Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
    Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

    Paul Scholes column

    Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
    Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

    The future of GM

    The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
    Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

    Britain's mild winters could be numbered

    Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
    Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

    The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

    The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
    Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

    Cowslips vs honeysuckle

    It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
    Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss