Friday, June 01, 2007

If Icarus Had Only Known...

Forget Einstein's Theory of Relativity, Fermat's Last Theorem, the price of gasoline, and Middle Eastern thought processes. If you're looking for something really impossible to understand, try airline ticket pricing.

Yes, I know it's been the subject of endless commentary and many comedy routines (the best is the one that wondered how it would be if hardware stores priced house paint the way the airlines price tickets), but yesterday provided a practical example of how utterly insane the pricing and availability of airline tickets has become.

Agnes and I need to fly to Ohio for a family reunion. I visited the trusty website to look for the best deal, and the best I could find was roughly $350 per person for a round trip. I called Agnes and told her, and she grumbled about stupid husbands and logged into the same website, less than five minutes after we spoke. She found tickets for the same route, same conditions, for about half that amount. She called me, I logged back in, and found a completely different set of airlines, connections, and prices, none of which were the ones I'd originally found or the ones Agnes got.

Bear in mind that all this took place in the space of about five minutes, using the same planning information, with a destination that isn't a major world airport. The prices we found ranged from Agnes's low figure to a high of over $500 for a round trip between the same two airports. It just provides anecdotal evidence to prove the apocryphal adage that no two people on any flight paid the same price for their tickets.

Is there anyone out there who has any idea how airlines generate their prices? I have a mental image of a bunch of chimps in a room, throwing darts at a board covered with random prices, which may well be as good an explanation as any other.

If you find the Rosetta Stone of airline pricing, please let me know. In the meantime, I'll be sitting here doing something easily understandable, like squaring a circle.

Have a good day and a good weekend. More thoughts tomorrow.


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