Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Airfares: When "Sale" actually means "You Pay More"

Air Canada jet landing at Calgary Int'l Airport (YYC). (Photo copyright: Darren Popik.)

I used to think I had a pretty decent command of the English language, but something I got in my email yesterday has caused me to rethink this.

See, I received an email from Air Canada advising me of a new North America seat sale. Great! Airfares at reduced rates, and coming just at a time when I happen to be looking for a ticket to return to Calgary, to attend the 100th Anniversary of the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth, the Calgary Stampede.

The lowest fare on my route (Mexico City-Calgary) was consistently (for months) at $419-426 for a one way fare, which is uncompetitive for the market. United generally has this route priced about $100 lower. (Note: You don't gain anything by flying AC on this route – it's all one-stop service. And unfortunately, my hometown airline, WestJet, does not fly this route ... yet.)

Anyway, upon glancing at the email, and sample fares, I noticed that the “sale” fare on my route was … exactly the same as it had been for months.

Of course, this left me questioning my understanding of the word “sale”.

Perhaps sale does not mean “lower price” but in fact “same price as always”.

Just in case of some sort of clerical error in the ad, I proceeded to the AC website today to check for myself on the price for the route.

And it was at this point that my grasp of the word “sale” became even cloudier.

Now, that ticket that for months was selling at around $420, is now selling for … $487. Or more.

Yes, at Air Canada, “sale” means “you pay more!”

To be fair to the airline, I did a one-month low fare search. They offered nothing at a sale price in a two-week window around my preferred travel date. In fact, I saw their best fare going for as high as $918.

Airfares on AC: How many days with fares lower than the regular fare? Not many.

However, they actually did offer a lower fare on a few days farther out from my preferred travel window.  But that's the key -- just a few days.

I know some airlines take liberties with the English language when promoting “seat sales”, but it's a little dishonest to offer lower fares on just a few select dates, while jacking up prices for the rest of the sale period.

All I can say is this: WestJet, please start flying to Mexico City!  In the meantime, United, you've got this frequent flyer's business.

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