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The great fares rip-off?
Ever noticed how cheap it is to get to Dubai – and how expensive it can be to get away? Kipp investigates the forces at work behind Emirates’ fares to and from Dubai.
September 2, 2010 4:00 by Katherine Azmeh
It’s hard to be surprised anymore at the seeming randomness of airfares. Consider a recent fare inquiry placed with a Continental airlines representative. Interested in a one way flight from Missouri to Texas, I located a $350 flight with a stopover in Houston. Upon closer inspection, I learned that purchasing the direct flight to Houston would cost more than $500, while traveling to a more distant destination – via Houston as a stopover – would save nearly $200.
This kind of wanton disregard by airlines for what the rest of the world sees as rational behavior is hardly news anymore. And the explanations for the mysterious forces at work behind airline fares are never quite satisfactory.
Some chalk it up to bad business – a situation where the corporations have become so large, that they struggle to stay on top of all the variables that ultimately determine profit – fuel prices, airport prices, legislation and regulatory matters, intense competition. The result at times resembles a chaotic wild west, where inconsistencies and poor business strategies are around every corner. If you’re like me, though, you assume there’s a method to their madness – some deeper genius embedded in those contrarian fare prices – a rationale that industry outsiders can never fully discern.
The air fares to and from Dubai, however, have long defied explanation. At least they have in the case of Emirates. The Dubai-owned airline is a proud success story in the Emirate and region, and tends to receive favourable reviews from those who fly on it. And yet, it only takes a bit of research on the website to notice a frustrating pattern in the pricing.
“It’s no secret to anybody,” commented a business owner to Kipp. “It’s cheap to fly to Dubai, and expensive to fly away. It’s like they’ll do anything to get you here – and everything to prevent you from leaving.”
To UAE-savvy travelers, this won’t come as a surprise. One-way fares to Dubai, departing major European and North American airports, are frequently a pittance compared to the return trip back to the city of origin. For example, at time of writing, traveling from Houston to Dubai on Emirates in early September would run you $920 one-way. For the return flight, add an additional 20 percent or so, nearly $200. Travel the same day from Heathrow to Dubai, and you can expect to be out $587. The same trip in reverse – Dubai to Heathrow – will set back more than $750. That’s an increase of more than 25 percent.
New York-bound flights out of Dubai on Emirates run a hefty 60 percent more than their inbound counterparts ($830 versus $1,339). But the biggest discrepancy by far was noted on departures from Paris or Rome. Dubai-bound flights from these cities are a real bargain at just under $642 and $550, respectively. But travel the other way in you’re in for a rude awakening – a hefty $1,550 price tag for one-way travel to these cities – more than double the departure from Charles de Gaulle, and nearly triple that for the Rome departure.