One of the biggest problems for the airline industry right now is that not one of their millions of customers around the world understands their pricing policies. And I’d venture to suggest that their staff don’t either. In fact, their pricing policies are just so complex that NO-ONE has a clue. That can’t be good.
This past week I was on holiday at the coast with my family. Due to a family death, I needed to get back to Johannesburg for one day, for a funeral. The standard price for a Durban/Joburg flight is about R 800. The only options I could get in the time slots I wanted came to about R 1,500. This was true across all airlines flying the route on my schedule, including the so-called low-cost carrier (whose prices increase astronomically if you book at late notice). Most of the airlines give one way options as well, but trying to get the two cheapest legs on two different airlines boosted the price again, beyond the R 1,500 for the cheapest return.
But here’s the craziness of the airlines pricing systems (which no human being in the world could possibly understand).

On SAA, I could get a return ticket for R 540, if I was prepared to come back later than I wanted to. OR, and here’s the fun part, I could get two return tickets for R 1,080 – the outward leg for the time I wanted, and a return at some abitrary later date. And then do a Jhb-Dbn return ticket for my return leg, with some arbitrary return date in the future. I could save more than 20% of the ticket price, and make the airlines lose out on an extra seat, and give them a headache for non arrival on my two discarded return legs. OR, I could book those return legs for a future date I know I need to be in Durban (in February). So, I could either buy a return ticket for the funeral for R 1,500, or I could get two return tickets – for the funeral and for a later business trip – at 20% discount.
I have written about stupid airline rules before (see here). Maybe there’s a reason for these things. If so, TELL ME. Its not that difficult. If it is too difficult for me to understand, then you’ve got a problem as a company. A major disconnect with your clients. I wish I was stupid enough to get into the airline game – it must be the world’s dumbest industry. And in the case of South African Airlines, any stuff ups you make get bailed out by the South African tax payer (that happens in the US, too).
While I am moaning, three more complaints:

  • Can anyone explain the complexity of the class system for seats? Why not label them coherently so the customers can understand them (ditto for rental cars)?
  • What are all the codes on a paper ticket? (I found a diagram explaining some of them). Thank goodness we’ve moved to e-tickets.
  • South African airlines are ripping us off by charging “taxes and airport fees” that are way and beyond the actual taxes required. In other words, they are committing fraud. SAA and British Airways in SA seem to be the worst offenders according to a Sunday Times investigation.
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