In order to serve you bett… wait, it really is better: Fuel surcharges

Normally, the phrase In order to serve you better means that you're about to get screwed.

Imagine my surprise to discover that United has stopped imposing a fuel surcharge for flights between Canada and the United States due to the decrease in fuel prices. But wait, that's only for flights between Canada and the United States. Flights within the United States appear to have the surcharge in place as usual.

Hey, I've got an idea. How about getting rid of this surcharge nonsense and just raise the price of the ticket? Naw, that's just crazy talk.

I can see the Calvin & Hobbes cartoon already. "Lemonade, 5¢ a glass (plus 25¢ water surcharge, 50¢ sugar surcharge, 75¢ rent reclamation fee, $1.50 Moe appeasement fee, 25¢ capital depreciation fee...)"

Comments (16)
  1. mpz says:

    Over here in the Old World, truth in advertising  laws force companies to specify the exact total the ticket is going to cost.

    I once got a flight from Helsinki, Finland to Milan, Italy and back for around 42 euros inclusive of taxes and everything (the base price was set at 0.01 euros, and they advertised that, but they also had to mention the actual price).

  2. Ken Hagan says:

    @mpz, I’m not sure that the situation is much better in our old world. The advertiser might be compelled to mention the actual price, but they’ll be trying damn hard to make sure that the various shopping bots that crawl the web see the 1 cent price.

    Using a low headline rate to pull in punters who blink at the wrong moment and then clubbing them over the head with surcharges is just business as usual. In most companies, there is someone whose full time job is making sure the pricing structure sucks the maximum possible lucre out of the customer base. In contrast, the customer probably can’t spare more than a few hours analysing the resulting structure. They are bound to lose. That’s why we have consumer protection laws.

  3. Jim says:

    I just bought a laptop online on Toshiba website. And I found next day that Best Buy was selling for the same knid of laptop for $100 cheaper. I called Toshiba and asked for the match refund. Even the representative in Toshiba could not say any difference between the model I bought and the one in Best Buy. But she said you bought a model L300 but in Best Buy they are selling the model number is L305 so I could not get any compensation? Hey who said that marketing people are dummies?

  4. porter says:

    > Of course I pay it because its not like I have a choice.

    You always have a choice, you just might not like the alternatives.

  5. Thomas says:

    The Portsmouth to Isle of Wight ferry in the UK started adding a fuel surcharge about a year ago. They did it a very sensible way, which was to link the value of the surcharge directly to the current oil prices (updated monthly) and publish that linkage (the table is not only on their website, but on posters at the ticket office). This means that the surcharge increases when oil is more expensive, but more importantly decreases when oil become cheap again. The various electricity and gas suppliers could learn a thing or two from them.

  6. Peter says:

    In this corner of the world, the government department in charge of such things rather likes going after the airlines for misleading pricing. As a result they generally have to be reasonable about what they advertise – sometimes "surcharges" are itemised on the ticket but the price they advertise has to include such things.

    You might think that incorporating it into the ticket price (as it should be, it’s part of their operating costs) might make people happier because they feel like the airline’s being honest rather than nickling-and-diming them to death. On the other hand that perception is probably so strong it won’t matter…

  7. mikeb says:

    Heh – the Calvin & Hobbes strip is great (aren’t they all?). It not only fits the ‘surcharge as better service’ philosophy, but it seems to fit pretty well in what’s going on now regarding bailouts of major business areas.

    On the plus side, I have a new phrase to use as a sig (if I ever decide to start putting pithy quotes in a sig).


    "Caveat Emptor" is the motto we stand behind!

  8. Andy-Pennell says:

    Have you ever bought something from Ticketmaster? Apart from the usual crazy charges I see (Venue Charge, Convenience Charge grr) they now charge $2.50 for printing the actual ticket *at home*. Thats on MY paper, using MY ink, and yet have the cheek to charge $2.50 for it. Of course I pay it because its not like I have a choice.

  9. ton says:

    "Normally, the phrase In order to serve you better means that you’re about to get screwed."

    Yep that’s usually the first thing you hear before being switched to an automated phone answering app. I’m then forced to spend 10 minutes talking to an automated "service associate" when a human could have answered my question in about 30 seconds. *Sigh*

  10. Unfortunately, Ken’s right about shopping bots picking up on the wrong price; particularly with VAT (sales tax) in the UK, it can make a big difference as the bots pick up a product at GBP 100 (+15%) on one site as cheaper than GBP 110 (including the 15%) on another.

    Worse still, with corporate travel we can reclaim that 15% – *if* the hotel is charging regular VAT rather than using the "margin scheme", which skews price comparisons and can be quite hard to work out. The Hilton or some other big chain at GBP 70 can end up being cheaper for us than a small family-run place at GBP 65.

  11. Worf says:

    Funny, in Canada, companies have been tripping over themselves by advertising that they dropped the fuel surcharges.

    Which is probably because we were all cynical enough about gas prices and fuel surcharges, the marketers felt it would be beneficial. Too see how crazy it gets, one airline (Air Canada?) got vilified for not dropping their surcharge, or dropping it fast enough.

  12. Scott says:

    Actually, it IS just crazy talk.  Companies that advertise an "all-inclusive" price simply lose customers to companies that play the surcharge game.  Who determines the winner and loser?  Customers.

    We can’t blame really companies, only ourselves.  People are just that gullible.  They sort by price, and don’t look at the total cost.

  13. Abhishek says:

    Here in India when fuel prices were hitting the roof, airlines instituted ridiculous surcharges under various heads, and also went crawling to the govt. for a bailout. Now that the international fuel prices have come down, the govt. has reduced the local prices as well 3-4 times already, with more cuts on the way (elections are just around the corner, you see). But strangely (or maybe not so much), the airlines cartel has been *raising* prices, for which they’ve been rapped by the aviation minister just a few days back. Of course, we poor consumers don’t expect much to happen anyway, given the collusion between Big Business and politicians.

    The best part is, on top of all this, we now need to pay a "User Development Fee" (a misnomer if ever there was one!) at many new privately-operated airports, though the facilities seem to be as abysmal as always.

    I’m pretty sure it’s the same elsewhere as well… Sigh! Do we *ever* win?

  14. DWalker says:

    I like the TV ads from a formerly-small-and-scrappy-but-now-large US airline.  The ads say "no hidden fees" and they mock the fees that other airlines add after the quoted ticket price.

    On the last scene in the ad, the bottom of the screen lists some fees that they tack on to the ticket price!  Something like "plus $xx airport charge and $xx security charge".

    I suppose they can claim that their fees are less hidden than the other guys’, and they have fewer of them, but the ad clearly implies that the price you see is the price you pay.  Since the purpose of the ad is to claim that they don’t tack on fees and surcharges, then why do they tack on fees and surcharges anyway?

  15. steveg says:

    I fired off a complaint to Qantas last week because they charge an AUD $7.95 credit card surcharge for tickets — even those that are an Internet-only special. Makes my blood boil!

    Virgin Blue, another airline here, charges $3.50 a leg (They also charge $8 for a checked-in bag, but that’s at least a "value"-add service).

  16. steveg says:

    I fired off a complaint to Qantas last week because they charge an AUD $7.95 credit card surcharge for tickets — even those that are an Internet-only special. Makes my blood boil!

    Virgin Blue, another airline here, charges $3.50 a leg (They also charge $8 for a checked-in bag, but that’s at least a "value"-add service).

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