Sometimes sky-high prices are worth it - but only in context

When you have little or no opportunity to shop around, it's easy to get ripped-off

Share
Related Topics

Last Saturday I spent a boggling €20 on two cups of underwhelming cappuccino froth and a pair of lukewarm hot chocolate drinks.

My family and I sipped them while sitting outside in sub-zero temperatures, on a hard wooden bench, in uncomfortable clothes. And once we’d finished, I slipped over on a dangerously icy patch of floor and banged my head rather painfully. Did I feel ripped off? Not a bit of it.

Twenty-four hours later, I spent almost exactly the same amount of money on almost exactly the same round of drinks. The cappuccinos were of a similar quality, but the chairs we sat on this time were reasonably well padded, the air temperature perfect (if rather air-conditioned) and I didn’t fall over once. Did I feel ripped off? Well, yes I did, rather.

Of course, in both cases I had a choice. I didn’t have to buy those cappuccinos. I wasn’t particularly caffeine-deprived, or even all that thirsty. I just thought it would be nice.

However, in both cases there was also little or no opportunity to shop around. The first set of drinks was purchased in splendid isolation at the top of a mountain near the smart French ski resort of Tignes. The second was forked out for while corralled with several thousand of my fellow holidaymakers in Geneva airport.

The difference between the two? Contextual and psychological. On Saturday I was drinking expensive coffee while admiring an astounding view of snow-drenched Alpine scenery. We were on holiday. The price was high, but so was our altitude; the hot drinks were part of a glorious family outing on skis. On Sunday, we were on our way home. The world had once again resumed its garb of humdrum ordinariness. The apron at Geneva airport is, I find, a poor replacement for a distant view of Mont Blanc. And the exchange rate – sterling to euros via the insanely strong Swiss franc – didn’t help my mood.

Perhaps the reason it rankled quite so much is that I felt more exploited than when we were at the top of that chairlift. Even I can see that it costs a lot to send cappuccinos up mountains in the middle of winter. (And there’s probably some cunning bit of physics to do with the boiling point of water that means they still won’t taste all that good when they get there.) So I find it relatively easy to accept that you might pay a premium for poor-to-adequate coffee while skiing.

After queuing in the charter terminal in Geneva, then for security, then the shuttle bus, I was perhaps less inclined to accept the undoubtedly expensive process of importing coffee beans to Switzerland, heating them up and delivering them in a cardboard cup to me as I waited for my flight home. However, Geneva airport charges whatever people are prepared to pay, even though it can’t supply glittering views at the same time. And the simple fact is that I paid up, even if I did so grumpily.

The same applies to other items. As well as banging my head, I also twisted my knee (you can probably tell I’m not a particularly accomplished skier) which necessitated a visit to the pharmacy in Tignes. Pharmacies in the Alps specialise in knee-braces and sunscreen, so I bought an example of each, and was immediately €70 (£63) lighter. My local chemist would have charged me around £32 for similar products.

Again, I paid up because I wasn’t at home, I was in the mountains. I was in a place where knee-braces can command premium prices, but where I can also eat cheese fondue and ski down glaciers to my heart’s content.

It doesn’t always work. The English woman behind me in the queue for knee-braces clearly didn’t see things in quite the same way as me. (Or perhaps she was simply in less pain than I was.) The cost, she grumbled to the charming pharmacist, was a disgrace. How, she wondered, could it be justified? The pharmacist gave a Gallic shrug, and the lady left the shop without her leg brace – and with a pronounced limp.

The laws of supply and demand define our world, and that includes our holidays. I might not appreciate it all the time, but the same rules apply in Swiss airports as on beautiful French mountains, or in helpful chemist shops. Perhaps I should just wake up and smell the coffee.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Spanish Speaking

£17000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - German Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Japanese Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are fluent in Japanese a...

Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer - Immediate Start

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Dom Joly owns a pig. That thinks it's a dog.  

I'll bow out. Let Wilbur, the pig that thinks it's a dog, bring home the bacon

Dom Joly
 

Forget charging by the page - with books, heart matters more than heft

Katy Guest
The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'