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A new UK air website has been launched that makes it much easier to find flights to France from regional airports, as it claims to list every flight out of the UK on every airline. Airlinedestinations.co.uk is the brainchild of Paul Keogh-Davies, who first had the idea eight years ago while working for a travel agency, but lacked the technical expertise at the time to bring it to fruition.
The site is unique in listing flights on a regional basis. It also shows special offers and includes up to date information on new routes and routes that have been withdrawn. Funded by ‘click throughs’ to airline bookings, the site claims to be completely independent and impartial, not comparing prices or favouring any carriers. There can be no doubt that it is an extremely useful resource, enabling travellers for the first time to look at all the options for their villa holiday flights from a central starting point. Of course, customers who live near smaller, regional airports that serve similar airports in France are those who stand to gain most from the open skies policy now enforced throughout the EU.
Initial users of the site have identified three significant weaknesses, however. First, the arbitrary grouping of airports into regions is frustrating for users who want to identify only the flights from a particular airport or who live between two airports in different regions. Second, not all the links go direct to the carriers: some go to intermediaries, where the fares may be higher. Third, the site’s claim to be a money-saving guide seems unfounded because it does not offer a flight price comparison facility.
Unfortunately for airlinedestinations.co.uk, the most effective way to use the site will not bring them any income. Once you know the full range of options to a particular French destination, entering these details on sites that offer a price comparison will bring up the lowest prices. Except, that is, for low-cost carriers such as EasyJet or Ryanair. As you can only book these flights on the carriers’ own websites, their fares hardly ever appear in any internet flight price comparison tables. To arrive at the full picture on fares, you need to make a note of the prices offered by the low-cost carriers on their own sites and see how they compare with the fares for other airlines displayed on the price comparison sites before trying to book.
Even then, everything is not what it seems. Following intervention by the Advertising Standards Authority, most carriers operating out of the UK to France have fallen into line and show airport taxes and fuel surcharges as an integral part of the fare. Some of the low-cost carriers, however, still have hidden extras that emerge only when you book: for the use of credit cards, for luggage and for priority boarding. Luggage in the hold can add a significant sum to the bill for a large family travelling with several suitcases. Priority boarding is supposed to compensate for the lack of designated seats but as most low-cost airlines bus their passengers to the aircraft, where they cannot control who boards the airplane first, it usually represents poor value for money.
Airlines that were once national carriers and which in some instances used to receive large subsidies from government transport departments (now illegal in the EU) have been forced by the growth in competition to respond on fares whilst retaining a traditional level of service. They continue to have a significant advantage over the low-cost carriers in that generally they operate from the larger, more convenient airports and terminals, both in the UK and in France. The flight times, too, are often more civilised because the former national carriers, when forced to relinquish slots at particular airports, unsurprisingly retained those most likely to appeal to their passengers.
Most people who rarely fly between the UK and France except to begin their villa holiday are surprised to find that the old national carriers charge similar prices to the low-cost carriers on many identical city-to-city routes. However, to generate the lowest fares, it is often necessary to pretend a flexibility you really do not have, by entering a range of departure and return dates. Once the fares computer is convinced that you do not have to travel on particular dates, but at the same time that you can commit irrevocably to the final choice, it may produce a price for the dates you needed all along that is significantly cheaper than would otherwise be on offer. And the true comparison between prices needs to take into account that on the old national carriers everyone travelling is given a guaranteed seat which in most instances they can choose for themselves from an on-line seating plan and print out a boarding pass. Hold baggage is included in the price, as are snacks and full meals on longer flights, and the customer relations infrastructure when occasionally things go wrong is much better equipped to take remedial measures.
Any kind of flight that offers a chance to alter or even cancel the booking inevitably comes at a high premium. Far better to take out insurance, either for the specific holiday or on an annual basis, before you make any commitment on the travel arrangements. If an unexpected problem subsequently presents itself that compels you to change your plans, most travel policies will reimburse the cost of non-refundable tickets.
All the airlines calculate their load factors on an almost a daily basis and are aware from past trends which flights attract a large number of passengers. The cheapest seats on flights during the school holidays, especially at weekends, are often sold out many months before the date of travel, leaving increasingly expensive seats for those with no alternative. Sometimes prices change on a daily basis, at peak times always upwards. The best advice remains to choose your villa as early as possible and to book flights on a non-flexible basis, just as soon as they are available on the carrier’s computer system. This can result in savings for an entire family running into hundreds, sometimes thousands of pounds.
From our April 2008 newsletter