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The great fares rip-off?

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

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.

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  1. Pratyaksh on September 2, 2010 8:38 pm

    Loved your article. You forgot to mention one more thing though; if you leave Dubai on Thursday and come back Saturday, which is what most of us prefer=taking in most of our working day holidays, you pay much higher than if you fly Tuesday and fly back Thursday!


  2. Zouzou on September 3, 2010 10:47 am

    Emirates airlines is abusing it’s position. They are basically taking money from Dubai residents to give great fares to non residents. We should have a emirates airlines boycott week so that they stop abusing us.

  3. Andrew on September 3, 2010 6:40 pm

    Don’t really see what the fuss is, it always costs an airline less to fly into one of their hubs that out of it – and the cost of flying out is passed to the customer.

    Shock, horror.

  4. David Kiernan on September 4, 2010 6:25 am

    Can you explain why it can be cheaper for an airline to fly into one of its hubs than it is to fly out of it? I simply can’t see how that could be. You don’t work for emirates by any chance ??
    I have always believed that there is a cartel at work in Dubai keeping fares higher than they should be – call me paranoid if you like !

  5. sashi on September 4, 2010 8:06 am

    Don/t fully agree to this article. Right now a flight to Chennai out of Dubai is AED 655 one way and thge same from Chennai to Dubai is almost AED 1000. I presume it is also based on demand.

  6. ahmed on September 4, 2010 8:19 am

    Can I suggest that a similar article be written about retail prices in Dubai vs. the same items in other international cities.take your pick of any of the brands in the malls and compare, be it luxury top end brands or regular common mass market ones. I found the price discrepancy to be a big one, particularly between London and Dubai, the latter being substantially higher priced!

  7. zouzou on September 4, 2010 8:53 am

    Andrew do you work for Emirates Airlines? When the price difference is +10% i can understand, however when it is almost 250%, it is fair to ask ourselves if this airline is not abusing its dominant position.
    Emirates airlines does not value its loyal customers. Remember the new business lounge that they tried to restricted from silver and gold members.

  8. Andrew on September 4, 2010 4:19 pm

    I don’t even work in Dubai, let alone work for Emirates. Of course Emirates is abusing its position, but the fact there’s a difference in itself seems to be of surprise.

    Everything in the UAE is built on limited supply, there’s a cartel going for any customer segment.

  9. Ziad on September 5, 2010 6:16 am

    The situation is even worse if consider the situation in Doha-Qatar Qatarairways pricing is so expensive that u have to be creative to route your with stopovers on other airlines they also controlled the market with the aviation authority setting the pricing for direct destination and any violation there will be a hefty fine 10k QARs, they also impose a very high tax which in some case the tax is more than the ticket itself.
    I think kipp should consider this for an article.

  10. Mishal Kanoo on September 5, 2010 7:38 am

    The fare on BA to Dubai from London is, according to the article, $2,585 and from London to Dubai it was just $617. The whole premis of the article was that Dubai goes out its way to keep you here by giving low fares in but higher fares on the way it. This last fare proves this to be the opposite of the article’s premise. Care to comment?

  11. Paul on September 5, 2010 10:48 am

    Last week my wife and I booked to fly to South Africa next year. I live in Dubai so only want to book Dubai to Cape Town. My wife lives in the UK so will fly with Emirates from Manchester to Dubai, where we will both get on the same Emirates plane to fly to Cape Town. We then fly back from Johannesburg together on the same flight to Dubai 2 weeks later. She then carries on to Manchester.

    Before we did some “creative routing” my wife’s flight was going to be US$150 cheaper than mine. Can someone please explain the logic in this?

  12. Majdi Al Ayed on September 5, 2010 1:02 pm

    This is a great article and long overdue. From being a Gold-tier Skywards member for 5+ nonstop years, I have now boycotted them unless I have a real emergency and their schedule is the best option. I am now Gold-tier on 4 other of the regional airlines which have excellent service and are reasonably priced. Let me shock you:

    EK’s fare whether into or out of Dubai are generally more than 40% more expensive than any other option. Take the Dubai to Jeddah sector which I fly on at least once a week. EK charges around AED12,000 for a First Class return while Saudi Airlines charges AED 4,800 or 5,000 max. Let me tell you, as much as the A380 is great (been on it twice already) it is certainly not worth paying double for a 2-hour flight and with the same mediocre service that Emirates has been giving its passengers over the years. Gone are the golden days for Emirates when they used to outshine themselves with excellent service and reasonable pricing. The only thing that seems to be increasing is their fares.

    Want to be shocked even more: Try searching on for a Dubai to JFK ticket for example. A Business or First return is AED 30,000 or AED 45,000+ respectively. Try neighboring Etihad or Qatar Airways (via Doha) and you could be paying 50% of that if NOT less.

    I know some airlines consider themselves “premium” and want to charge a slightly higher fee than competition, but this is ridiculous!

  13. Mohd Atassi on September 5, 2010 2:26 pm

    i agree with most of you, but lets admit it, Emirates gives quality in all its services, someone has to pay for this.

  14. Miss Anne Thropic on September 5, 2010 3:35 pm

    Or get to the UK cheaply by jumping on a cheap Air Arabia flight to Istanbul and then a Ryan Air flight to the UK…

  15. Andrew on September 5, 2010 6:15 pm

    So Mohd, you think those on “cheap” fares are being subsidised?

    As for myself, irrespective of airline I buy economy and upgrade to business with miles. Sorted.

  16. Kevin Mascarenhas on September 6, 2010 2:34 am

    Airlines are going for the 100 metres dash .The highest rates to and fro are usually reserved to the Indian Sub continent which is the closest and where most of airlines make their profits. It is high time airlines worked on a more facilitating model than a fleecing model. That way they will build brand loyalty and will survive the marathon.

  17. jim on September 6, 2010 6:56 am

    I’d have to disagree with you Mohd – in my experience, EMirates don’t offer better quality at all. There are serveral other carriers that match Emirates – and some that beat it hands down.

  18. Haroon on September 6, 2010 5:08 pm

    One interesting thing also is that flying to Doha from Abu Dhabi is much cheaper than flying from Dubai – with Qatar airways. I take this to mean that the passenger is footing the bill for our extremely expensive airport, and this is what is giving rise to high prices out of Dubai.

    The fact is that Emirates faces stiff competition from international airlines flying into Dubai and around the world (Emirates’transit business is as important as, if not more important than, its hub business) and so has to offer cheap fares to compensate. It then needs to make up deficits for its high overheads and the costs of the airport facility by charging extortionate amounts to its Dubai-based travellers to make up for this. Simple!

  19. Tagwok on September 7, 2010 2:16 pm

    Does anyone know that most of the airlines in UAE earn the maximum income mainly by exploiting the lowest paid section of the employees in UAE. Just check the fares to India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Philphines sector. If you compare the rate charged per hour of travel on this sector, it is almost double than what is being charged to Europeon sector, and to rub salt on the wound, almost junk aircrafts are being used by the leading airlines of UAE to this sector

  20. S Mehta on September 13, 2010 11:27 am

    Mr. Kanoo, I would just fly EK to Dubai and BA back for the best of both worlds.

  21. Ahmed on September 13, 2010 7:43 pm

    It is wrong to accuse Emirates or any UAE-based airline based on the principles of Economics only. There is some physics and physical phenomena involved. The fares you have discussed are all WEST bound flights. The Earth spins in the direction of JFK to Dubai, and hence anything moving against the direction of rotation in its atmosphere (Dubai to JFK) has to have more power (hence burn more fuel) to travel the same distance. This is known as the Coriolis effect in which there is a fictitious, extra force pulling back the aircraft (due to the rotation of the Earth in the other way)

  22. jim on September 15, 2010 6:52 am

    Ahmed, the point people are making is that if you book a flight in the UK (return flight from or to the uk), it will be considerably cheaper than if you were to do the exact same thing thing from within the UAE. Let me explain – 2 flights, to and from, more expensive if you book it in the UAE rather than if you book it in the UK.

  23. Twinkle on September 16, 2010 11:06 am

    I’ve always believed prices are kept artificially high for flights booked in the UAE. Emirates is the worst offender: I used to be a loyal customer but I stopped flying them. If you don’t like it, vote with your feet. Virgin’s Upper Class knocks spots of EK Business Class and costs a fraction.

  24. Andrew on September 17, 2010 10:20 am

    Have to agree with Twinkle, Virgin Upper Class is the way to go if your routes match up. Virgin in general has better service than any other airline.

  25. Stephen on September 17, 2010 4:47 pm

    It’s been the same for years, just mildly surprising that it comes as a shock to all. EK does it because they can, with a loyal, unwavering customer base who use them because of the great schedules. Ask any of the top 5 execs at EK what the cost difference is between flying into & out of DXB or what price multiple J class is to Y; they don’t know. It’s not a master plan, they just get away with it. The solution; vote with your feet. I do.

  26. W. L. Buker on September 25, 2010 2:52 pm

    Latest “early bird” offer by KLM.
    Fly to Boston (via Amsterdam) for Dh.2000.- or go half way to Amsterdam only for Dh.2650.-
    No thank you.

  27. Emu in the Desert on September 29, 2010 8:58 am

    To get from Australia to Dubai costs an absolute fortune, but flights in the other direction are considerably cheaper ….. how does that fit in with the ‘Emirates is trying to rip Dubai residents off’ theory !

  28. Steve on September 30, 2010 5:32 am

    Dubai has an open skies policy which means any airline can fly here without restriction but Emirates can’t necessarily fly to their country – as for the airfares, there are 140 competitors at Dubai airport if you dont want to fly Emirates then chose another carrier – oh but they don’t give the same quality of service or product – yes that why you pay more – you would not expect a meal at the Jumeirah beach hotel for the same price as Ravis in satwa ? So why do you expect it with airfares – get real

  29. Zoran on September 30, 2010 12:51 pm

    Concerning flying from Dubai to Paris, only Air France and Emirates deliver direct flights. What do you think they do as they are the only ones in this route? They agree each other on the prices to apply so they can both make profit and avoid that one dies after loosing huge amounts of money. It is a kind of monopoly; does it ring you a bell? Telecom!! Etisalat and du charge at least 4 times what you pay in France for a lower debit and less free services such as international calls. Why? do we have any alternatives?

  30. Neil on December 17, 2011 10:22 am

    Some time ago when checking ticket prices Dubai-Johannesburg-Dubai I found that if you buy Johannesburg-Dubai-Johannesburg tickets in South Africa you will be paying half the price of when you buy the tickets in Dubai.


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