The Mystery of Booking Airline Tickets

Lately, Jan and I have been scouring web sites in search of cheap fares for some flights we will be taking in the next couple of months. One of these flights is to Amsterdam from somewhere in Greece. My cousin Anneloes is getting married December 6, and we want to go to the wedding. We decided not to cycle through Holland because it would have taken a long time to visit family and friends, and now we get to see just about everybody all at once at the wedding. It will also be a nice few days off the bike and great to catch up with cousins, aunt and uncles.

We have about a half million Aeroplan Miles sitting in our accounts and thought this might be a good opportunity to use some of them. I logged into our Aeroplan account and entered the required information. Amazingly, Aeroplan spat out a list of flight options from Athens to Amsterdam and back in early December. This alone is a bit of a miracle as Aeroplan, in my experience, usually does not have points flights available on short notice of one month.

But there was the list with all kinds of viable flights for us. This was exciting. The flights were pretty good and the number of points needed was 60,000, which is reasonable enough for two tickets from one side of Europe to the other.

Athens to Amsterdam itinerary.
Athens to Amsterdam itinerary.

Then, my eyes fell on the Airport Taxes, Fees & Surcharges line in the summary. I sat staring at the amount for a moment like a stunned mollusk. Flabbergasted at the amount of $783.60. What the hell could this be for?

I click on Details to reveal the following:

The fees and surcharges summary.
The fees and surcharges summary.

All of the fees are reasonable enough and expected in this paranoid era of air travel but the one that is really galling is the “fuel surcharges” at a stunning $249.20 per traveller. So, this is how Air Canada rewards its customers for their loyalty.

The other charge, more interesting than upsetting, is the Netherlands Noise Isolation Charge at $2.90 per passenger. Who actually receives this money? Is there some bureaucrat in the Netherlands who is in charge of this? And what is it anyway? And what is the money actually used for? Is there some kind of ear plug program that people near the airport are eligible for? Can anybody shed some light on this? Please, let me know. It’s all I can think about now that I’ve read it.

Well, after some swearing at the computer screen, I went to a couple of flight booking web sites like Skyscanner, Kayak and Expedia, and quickly came up with hundreds of flights from Athens to Amsterdam for less than what the total fees Aeroplan wanted to charge us.

The irony, of course, is that all of these flights also include the ubiquitous Airport Taxes, Fees & Surcharges. However, the one item missing from those flights is a Fuel Surcharge. This, it seems, is only charged by Aeroplan to its loyal customers. Amazing.

We ended up booking a flight from Thessaloniki to Amsterdam as Athens looked a bit far to reach by early December. Total cost: $658 for two tickets. This flight is a little more expensive than what we would have paid to fly from Athens but it fits better in our cycling schedule. We would have had a long 1,200 KM or more ride to Istanbul to complete in less than two weeks after returning and it didn’t look feasible.

Another flight we’re looking to book is from Istanbul at the end of this year as we end the European portion of our journey in that city on the border between Europe and Asia. We are planning to spend Christmas and New Year’s in Istanbul before flying to Oman and joining some friends to cycle there for the month of January. Afterwards, we plan to fly to Asia.

We began by trying to book a multiple-city itinerary: from Istanbul to Muscat and from Muscat to Bangkok. The cheapest we could find was $866 per person. Total $1732. Since these are essentially two one-way flights with different airlines, I thought I would try to book the legs separately as one-way flights, which is what the travel web sites are doing anyway.

Here is what I got: Istanbul to Muscat: $325 per person; Muscat to Bangkok: $277 per person. Total: $602 per person or $1204.

These are the same flights but simply by booking two one-way segments separately we’re saving $530. How this all works is a mystery to me but I’ll happily keep the 500 bucks for something else, thank you very much.

So, a word of caution, fellow travellers: forget about Aeroplan. It’s more of a punishment plan rather than a reward plan. And be creative in exploring all your options when booking flights.

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4 thoughts on “The Mystery of Booking Airline Tickets

  1. Hi Paul, yes aeroplan is a scam for short flights. The only way to save on tickets in my experience is on long-haul, e.g. Canada – Germany. But I did check that recently. Cheers, Wolfgang

  2. Coming to Holland ? Surprise, surprise. In spite of family celebrations in Oud Beyerland, love to meet with you. Please keep us informed. Greetings from HENK & JANNEKE DE VRIES

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