Simon Calder: The Man Who Pays His Way

What a difference 22 years makes

One of the stranger ticket-buying experiences I have had took place in Barcelona during the Falklands War. I wanted a one-way flight to London. At the time, the cheapest ticket cost £150. Everyone I talked to pointed in the direction of a young Argentinian, said to run the best bucket shop in town.

Upon hearing that I was keen to get back to work in order not to be sacked, Ramon launched into a frenzy of ticket-procurement, making urgent phone calls to another agency, then driving me across town to pick up a ticket. This document asserted that I had flown from London to Barcelona a week earlier on British Airways, which I hadn't, and that I was booked to return that very afternoon. For this work of fiction - without the London-Barcelona coupon, which was removed - I paid £70, equivalent to a week's wages.

How different the world looks now that you and I can simply click our way around Europe for next to nothing.

My "Send £1 to Dublin" campaign was launched a year ago this week after Ryanair had its no-frills knuckles rapped by the European Commission. The Irish airline's deal with Charleroi airport in Belgium, which amounted to a subsidy for every passenger that flew there, was ruled unfair. Ryanair's chief executive, Michael O'Leary, warned at the time that routes would be cut and fares would rise.

The send-a-pound campaign was not overly successful. Indeed, I appear to have been the only person to have sent one, and Mr O'Leary posted it back - a move he may have regretted this week when his airline announced sharply reduced profits. In the previous third quarter, Ryanair had made an average profit of £5.50 per passenger; this time, that figure dropped by £2.

The Irish airline has frequent "fly for 99p" offers; one is underway this weekend at www.ryanair.com. As you know, the catch is that you end up paying significantly more than the headline price. "Taxes" can add £14 to the price of each flight. These mainly comprise spurious fees and charges that are enough to cover the airline's marginal costs - the amount to carry one more passenger.

The internet reduces transaction costs almost to zero, so it is perfectly rational to try to entice passengers on board a flight with a very low fare. What is less rational is to cut prices below marginal cost. But this week I flew from Luton to "Barcelona", as Ryanair likes to call Girona, for a total fare of £5. The airline is obliged to send this straight to the Government for Air Passenger Duty - unless I become one of the 2 million or so passengers who each year mysteriously fail to show up for their Ryanair flights. The flight home from a different "Barcelona", this time Reus, was even cheaper: €5 (£3.50). Along the way, I kept tabs on my spending, from snacks to paying the world's worst busker €1 to go away.

Apart from musicians whose rendition of "No Woman, No Cry" is enough to make you weep, Barcelona looks good and feels grand in winter. On a crisp, clear February day the Catalan capital is at its dazzling best. You can walk along the Ramblas without colliding with a squadron of Swedes bearing backpacks the size of Volvo estates; and in the sublime Picasso Museum the only sound is your echoing footsteps.

Coming home, the flight was all you need for a two-hour hop: punctual, clean and safe. But there were just 29 passengers, giving each six seats each. It was a shame - not least for the planet - that there were so few of us to enjoy the experience.

As concerned environmentalists gathered to discuss climate change, I totted up my spending on the trip: £123. Of this, Ryanair took just seven per cent. For flying me 1,400 miles, the airline charged around half a penny a mile - compared with 30p a mile earned by Midland Mainline for the train to Luton airport. I had spent more on elevenses at Taller de Tapas than I had on the flight home. It appears that however low the fares go, seats are still difficult to shift - partly because there are so many extra costs to add on to a trip.

At Reus airport, just before I boarded, I asked how much the flight would cost for someone turning up at the last minute wanting to go to London.

The answer: €272, just short of £200. Travelling on impulse can be expensive.

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
Sport
The Pipes and Drums of The Scottish Regiments perform during the Opening Ceremony for the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park on July 23, 2014 in Glasgow, Scotland.
Commonwealth GamesThe actor encouraged the one billion viewers of the event to donate to the children's charity
Sport
Karen Dunbar performs
Entertainers showcase local wit, talent and irrepressible spirit
Sport
Members of the Scotland deleagtion walk past during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park in Glasgow on July 23, 2014.
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
film
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
News
Very tasty: Vladimir Putin dining alone, perhaps sensibly
news
Life and Style
Listen here: Apple EarPods offer an alternative
techAre custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?
Arts and Entertainment
Top guns: Cole advised the makers of Second World War film Fury, starring Brad Pitt
filmLt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a uniform
News
The University of California study monitored the reaction of 36 dogs
sciencePets' range of emotions revealed
News
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
News
Joining forces: young British men feature in an Isis video in which they urge Islamists in the West to join them in Iraq and Syria
newsWill the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?
Arts and Entertainment
The nomination of 'The Wake' by Paul Kingsnorth has caused a stir
books
News
i100
Life and Style
food + drinkZebra meat is exotic and lean - but does it taste good?
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
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

    C++ Software Engineer - Hounslow, West London - C++ - to £60K +

    £40000 - £60000 per annum + Pension, Healthcare : Deerfoot IT Resources Limite...

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Visitor Experience volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary role: Old Royal Naval College: To assist the Visitor Experien...

    Telesales Manager. Paddington, London

    £45-£55k OTE £75k : Charter Selection: Major London International Fashion and ...

    Day In a Page

    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
    US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

    Meet the US Army's shooting star

    Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
    Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

    Take a good look while you can

    How climate change could wipe out this seal
    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

    Farewell, my lovely

    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
    Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

    Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

    Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

    John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
    Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

    Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

    The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
    The 10 best pedicure products

    Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

    Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

    Commonwealth Games 2014

    Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
    Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

    Jack Pitt-Brooke

    Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
    How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

    How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

    Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game