Monday, June 6, 2011

The Prohibitive Cost of Flying

While living in a foreign country, you tend to track certain things.  First of all, if you are being paid in the local currency and not your currency you tend to keep a real close eye on the exchange rate.  Other things you pay attention to are health scares, family issues, and the price of flights.  Now, normally, I'm not one to balk at the notion of spending 600 or 700 dollars to cross an ocean.  I understand that the price of a flight is not directly proportional to the services you receive.  I have been on some flights which cost 500 dollars and had excellent service, and others which cost 800 dollars and had no service.  I have also had the pleasure of sitting in a 2,000 dollar one way seat and I must say that the service was ridiculous. 

Now, my current dilemma.  I have for the past few months been desiring greatly to spend a week or two in San Diego.  You can call it home sickness, or just a general longing to see people and places that I have known for a long time.  In fact, I have been looking into traveling to San Diego for several months now, and the entire time there was one giant, glaring issue.  The price of a flight from Seoul to LA or Seoul to San Francisco has risen drastically.  We're not talking by 100 or 200 dollars, but in some cases by over 600 dollars.

I have spent the last few weeks trying to figure out how exactly this cost increase has come about.  Part of it can be attributed to the weaker dollar driving up costs, but actually, the dollar was roughly the same strength the last time I went back home.  Maybe it's when I'm travelling, being August and generally considered peak season for traveling I am expecting an increase in price, but not 600 dollars.  That doesn't explain it.  Honestly, I'm having a really hard time finding out why the price has increased, besides the fact that, the price has increased.  That is truly the only reason I can find for such a drastic increase.

Then, in the back of my head I thought of two things, one which was dismissed rather quickly, the other I haven't been able to shake off.  At first I thought maybe the earthquake and subsequent radiation leak had cause airlines to change their paths thereby incurring more costs.  This theory, while holding some potential, is pretty much false.  Most flights going to the west coast of the United States, and the United States in general go by a northerly route when leaving from East Asia.  They fly north past Siberia, cross the Bering Strait and then follow the coast line down.  Unfortunately for the radiation theory, the only radiation found on this path is from the now defunct USSR.

Which leads me to a small article I read several months ago.  It was talking about how 10-15 airlines had been convicted in court of conspiring to artificially inflate and maintain high prices.  Several of these airlines just happened to operate out of Korea, Japan, and China.  In fact, most of the airlines were fined severely by the US government.  Not that I saw any of that money but hey, I'm just the little guy.  Now, considering that many of the airlines who operate trans pacific flights lost billions of dollars in fines to the US government, it only makes sense that they will try to recoup some of this money by raising prices and fees on their long haul flights.  This increase in prices would also cause a corresponding raise in the prices of other airlines.  I'm just guessing, but this does seem to make some sense here.  If some airlines are charging a much higher price, what is going to stop those airlines who don't need to charge as much from raising their prices, but maintaining a price about 100 dollars cheaper to get increased business.

No matter the reason, it still is baffling to try and figure out just how some of these flights can cost so much more in such a relatively small amount of time.  When I flew home for my sister's wedding it cost me 750 dollars on Singapore Airlines.  For those that don't know Singapore Air is widely considered one of the best international carriers in the business.  They were only 50 dollars more expensive than the other guys but the service and comfort was more than worth it.  If you take that exact same flight booked through the exact same website, the current cost is 1600 dollars.  That is an increase of almost 1,000 dollars.  Someone explain to me how in just 1 1/2 years the cost for the exact same flight can cost nearly 1,000 dollars more. 

My biggest concern, is that while I do yearn to visit San Diego and spend some time with people I miss, the cost of flying there is quite possibly going to derail those plans.  For the cost of the flight, I could spend almost two weeks in the Philippines traveling.  It's frustrating, but it may mean instead of coming back I take a short ride over to Japan and see some things that I have been wanting to see for a long time.

1 comment:

Carissa said...

Two big factors not accounted for are demand and just whether particular flights are being filled. For example, we flew to Korea on Singapore Air (which, I agree, was awesome!) and it was the cheapest flight out there (something like $750 one-way, if I recall correctly). I would bet that is below the average price for that flight, even then. Since I tend to price-shop extensively anytime I buy a flight, I've noticed how much a couple days or a week can make in the price difference in a flight, and I think a lot of that is due to flight load (also, I would bet that, due to the recession, airlines were offering a lot more deals when you went home for your sister's wedding). A long-winded way to say...don't forget to account for supply and demand. :) Also, please let me know if you will be back in San Diego...I will be back briefly in early July, and then we'll be back for about a week in early August in between a trip to South America and moving to Houston. We would love to see you if we are in San Diego at the same time!