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Day Five: Cologne, Germany

Posted on Thursday, February 3rd, 2005


There's nothing quite like having to plan your next trip while in the middle of your current one. Especially in a foreign country at 4:00 in the morning. It's even worse when you consider the wild acrobatics you have to endure to find the best price. And that brings me to a rant that has been building for a long time...

Frequent travelers face a mystery that seems to defy logic every time they plan a trip: exactly how do airlines calculate their fare schedules? For example, my next trip is to Memphis, Tennessee. Coincidentally, Northwest Airlines has a hub there, so there is a direct flight out of Seattle (I should know, I was just there four days ago to transfer to my Amsterdam connection). Lucky break right? A direct flight with no connections is bound to be cheaper than a flight with a layover somewhere isn't it?

The answer, if you hadn't guessed, is "no."

Once my outbound flight from Wenatchee is removed, a direct flight from Seattle to Memphis is nearly a $600 round-trip. A staggering sum considering I flew all the way to Germany for $30 less (with two connections, one of them in Memphis!). But guess what? A flight from Seattle to Nashville (which requires a connection in Detroit) is just $320. WTF?!? That's that's almost half the cost! I wonder if there's something strange that happens when you calculate actual miles flown:

  • Seattle to Memphis @ $600: 1866 miles (32 cents per mile).
  • Seattle to Detroit to Nashville @ $320: 2379 miles (13.5 cents per mile).

Nope, that's even worse! They charge 58% less per mile to fly 22% further, and that doesn't even begin to address all the extra costs that's involved in adding a second flight. What kind of bullshit economics is that? No wonder airlines are losing money! They charge less to use more fuel, more facilities, and more labor. The stupidity of such pricing is baffling to even the most mathematically challenged.

So guess what? I get to rent a car in Nashville then drive three hours to Memphis. Fine with me, they've got a swell Hard Rock Cafe in Nashville, so I'll be stopping there for lunch before I go. And then I guess I'll be having dinner at the Hard Rock in Memphis later that evening. I was going to have to rent a car anyway and, with unlimited mileage, I will still save hundreds (even after the gas to get there is factored in). That's lame.

It would be easy to put all of this on Northwest Airlines, but it seems all major airlines are guilty of the same crazy shit. So the next time the airlines start crying about what bad shape they're in and go begging the government for a bail-out, I hope Uncle Sam tells them to go f#@% themselves and instead demand that they hire a financial manager to explain basic economic principles to the people who set the pricing, thus encouraging passengers to fly a route that costs airlines less, not more...

  • More miles, more hub stops, more planes, more fuel, more depreciation, more resources, more frequent flier miles awarded, more labor = higher fare.
  • Less miles, less hub stops, less planes, less fuel, less depreciation, less resources, less frequent flier miles awarded, less labor = lower fare.

Sheesh! Hmmm... I'd better get packed. A few days vacation in a warmer climate awaits!

Categories: Travel 2005Click To It: Permalink


  1. annette says:

    Ok, I just spent wayyyy too much time clicking on the files at the top to change the little DaveToon at the top right of the page – way too cute. Did you draw those?

  2. Nez says:

    Expedia, Orbitz and Priceline aren’t much help either. Bring back the good, old-fashioned travel agent!

  3. Dave2 says:

    Yep. I spent wayyy too much time drawing them! 🙂

  4. ssp says:

    While I agree that airfares are mostly absurd, I was told that _in theory_ things could make ‘business’ sense.

    To begin with, direct connections will always be more popular, as they’re quicker and less stressful. So obviously airlines may be able to charge more for that. Also, if a certain route is more popular, it’ll be more likely that an airline can sell all tickets at a higher price. Similarly, on an unpopular route, an airline will be happy to let you have a ticket for half the price rather than having an empty seat.

    However, I still think that airfares are absurd. For example the same flight will have a different price depending on the country you buy it in. E.g. it’s always cheaper to fly KLM or BA when leaving from Germany although you’ll have an extra flight to Amsterdam or London. However, many Dutch people seem to like flying Lufthansa because it’s cheaper…

  5. Dave2 says:

    When trying to get to Europe, I pretty much just take whatever sale fare I can find to get me to any major city, then shop a cheap fare to my ultimate destination (like Germanwings, RyanAir, EasyJet, etc.). It’s not as convenient, but you can save huge sums of money.

    In the USA, I can never find anything equivalent, so I end up paying big money most of the time.

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