Cheap Is Not Always Best

I posted my comments on Rick Seaney’s Fare Compare blog after reading his “Top Ten Insider Secrets” linked from The Consumerist.   I didn’t find this basic list of rehashed (but good) ideas worth the trumped up label of profound and enlightening.   Furthermore, a couple of points I flat out disagreed with, such as his advice on bereavement fares.

Aside from my annoyance at number 10 - “only use Farecompare.com”   (yes I understand his blog is an extension of his company, but it’s a disservice to say you ONLY need one search site,)  I was also surprised that Rick was bamboozled by the “highway express lanes,”  and enthusiastically prompted GW to keep these nonsensical “lanes” always open.  Fortunately some air traffic controllers posted the same immediate response I had:   That this is just a snow job resulting in nothing.

Anyway I won’t keep bagging on Rick Seaney.  His site is popular, he certainly is an expert on price, however I find his other posts to be unoriginal, simplistic, and reactionary.  Agree to disagree.

His 2nd “Top Ten Secrets” point got me thinking about price.  I post random travel articles that interest me, but I only briefly mention or dwell on price.  Why?  Because unless a really killer deal comes along the price doesn’t matter.  It’s always subjective.  We all like to save money – but we all have different income levels and criteria of what we’re willing to spend.  What’s inexpensive for me may not be for you.  The majority of internet savvy people already know how to search kayak.com or farecompare.com    They know the best days to fly, or which airports are fortress hubs and which small markets have a low cost carrier.   Even the most web illiterate person can search out criteria netting them a cheap fare.  

That’s the problem though:  Cheap Fares.  When purchasing airfares the public descends on low fares like Target on Black Friday.   The fact is people insist on scraping up the absolute cheapest fares – then complain when the inevitable consequences arise.   Cheap fares OFTEN result in bad service and a low priority level.   And when people have a bad experience flying they complain, whine, and write letters about airline service – but when it comes time to purchase a ticket they’ll still acquiesce and fly whichever airline or fare is cheapest.

If you’re hiring someone to re-roof your house or drywall your basement should you take the lowest bid?  Probably not.  Would you pay bottom of the barrel rates for car insurance?  Not a good idea.   Then why pay it for transportation?   Reducing the fraction:  I can take the bus from my home downtown to my suburban office park for $1.50, which entails a transfer and an hour plus jaunt snaking down congested busy streets.  Or I can pay $1.25 more and take the train –  making my commute a quick 40 minutes trip.

Sometimes it’s better to pay MORE for your airfare for reasons of convenience and better treatment.  If I’m visiting a city in Europe for less than seven or eight days you can bet I’ll pay $100 more to fly non-stop and avoid an east coast or Chicago connection, where I could potentially lose an entire day if delayed.   If I’m flying to southern California I might pay $45 more and fly to Burbank rather than LAX.   If I have contingencies in my schedule I might pay MORE to fly a carrier with six flights a day to my destination city, rather than one – allowing me to grab an earlier or later flight.   (Yeah they’ll probably be sold out anyway.)

Users of Priceline.com get low prices, but they’re relegated to a level lower than plankton when it comes to rescheduling cancellations and aircraft changes.   For $35 more I might buy my ticket through the airline’s web site, plug in my miles number and move up a few notches – even flying economy.

The example of all examples comes from Columbus based Skybus:  The Columbus Dispatch  tells the story of Don Dennis and friends, who paid LESS THAN $50 dollars for their round trip tickets to Bellingham, Washington.   They planned a ski trip, rented a car, were booking a condo, then Skybus announced they’re pulling out of the Bellingham market as of January.   Poof. Vacation evaporates.

Needless to say they’re pissed.   But wait a minute:  Their outbound flight was TEN DOLLARS.  That’s cheaper than Arby’s en route TO the airport.  You SHOULD expect the same service and standard regardless of price – but the reality is it doesn’t happen. Boycott-skybus.com contains more tales of angry would be passengers. 

I might consider flying Skybus or any Barely-Air airline to go visit friends some weekend.  But I would never rely on them to attend a job interview or wedding.  Or a ski trip with friends.

Granted most of my trips or solo or with one other person, so I realize a higher (more convenient,)  airfare can be cost prohibitive to larger families.  Yet I think everyone should examine their options in detail before snatching up the price grabber specials.  You wouldn’t buy the cheapest car or TV available.  Treat airfare purchases like any other consumer product.  Cheap has it’s consequences.

Now.  How to I get to L.A. in a few weeks for under $150?  Rick I’m back on farecompare.

Skybus photo from Airlines.net  

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