Friday, October 25, 2013

The Price of Paint By Airline Calculations

Our trip to Germany this past summer recalled for me one of the great economic mysteries of our time: how airlines set the prices for their tickets. If you've ever tried to buy an airline ticket, you know that the price advertised has no relation at all to the price you actually are charged: the final bill includes seventy-five layers of taxes, fees, tax fees, fee taxes, taxes on the tax fees, and fees for paying the fee tax. Then there are the surcharges, the ma'amcharges, charges for carry-ons, charges for luggage, charges for more desirable seats, charges for preferential boarding, etc, etc. And no matter what you pay, there is no one else on board the airplane who is paying the same amount you did.

A few years ago, I read a brilliant satire of airline ticket pricing that asked the question: what if hardware stores sold paint like airlines sell tickets? I lost my copy of the satire, but yesterday my friend Ken e-mailed me a copy, which I offer for you here so you can prepare yourself for your next thrilling flight planning experience ...

Customer: Good morning! I need to buy some paint. How much does your paint cost? 

Clerk: Well, sir, that depends on quite a lot of things. 

Customer: Can you give me an estimate? Is there an average price? 

Clerk: Our lowest-priced paint is $12 a gallon, and we have 60 different prices up to $200 a gallon. 

Customer: What's the difference in the paint? 

Clerk: Oh, there isn't any difference; it's all the same paint. 

Customer: Well, then, I'd like some of that $12 paint. 

Clerk: Yes, sir. When do you intend to use the paint? 

Customer: I want to paint tomorrow. It's my day off. 

Clerk: Sir, the paint for tomorrow is the $200 paint. 

Customer: When would I have to paint to get the $12 paint? 

Clerk: You would have to start very late at night in 21 days, or about 3 weeks. But you have to agree to start painting before Friday of that week and continue painting until at least Sunday. 

Customer: You've got to be kidding! 

Clerk: I'll check and see if we have any paint available. 

Customer: You have shelves full of paint! I can see it! 

Clerk: Yes, sir, but that doesn't mean that we actually have paint available. We sell only a certain number of gallons on any given weekend. Oh, and by the way, the price per gallon just went to $16. We don't have any more $12 paint. 

Customer: What?? The price went up as we were talking? 

Clerk: Yes, sir. We change the prices and rules hundreds of times a day, and since you haven't actually walked out of the store with your paint yet, we just decided to change. I suggest you purchase your paint as soon as possible. How many gallons do you want? 

Customer: Well, maybe five gallons. Make that six, so I'll be sure to have enough. 

Clerk: Oh no, sir, you can't do that. If you buy paint and don't use it, there are penalties and possible confiscation of the paint you already have. If you change any colors there is a $50.00 change fee, even if it is the same brand. Also, there are no refunds. 

Customer: WHAT? 

Clerk: We can sell enough paint to do your kitchen, bathroom, hall, and north bedroom, but if you stop painting before you do the bedroom, you will lose your remaining gallons of paint. 

Customer: What does it matter whether I use all the paint? I already paid you for it! 

Clerk: We make plans based upon the idea that all our paint is used, every drop. If you don't, it causes us all sorts of problems. 

Customer: This is crazy! I suppose something terrible happens if I don't keep painting until after Saturday night! 

Clerk: Oh yes! Every gallon you bought automatically becomes the $200 paint. 

Customer: But what are all these, "Paint on sale from $12 a gallon" signs? 

Clerk: Well that's our budget paint. It only comes in half-gallons. One $6 half-gallon will do half a room. The second half-gallon to complete the room is $20. None of the cans have labels, some are empty, and there are no refunds, even on the empty cans. 

Customer: To hell with this! I'll buy what I need somewhere else! 

Clerk: I don't think so, sir. You may be able to buy paint for your bathroom and bedrooms, and your kitchen and dining room from someone else, but you won't be able to get the paint for your connecting hall and stairway from anyone but us. And I should point out, sir, that if you paint in only one direction, it will be $300 a gallon. 

Customer: I thought your most expensive paint was $200! 

Clerk: That's if you paint around the room to the point at which you started. A hallway is different. 

Customer: And if I buy $200 paint for the hall, but only paint in one direction, you'll confiscate the remaining paint. 

Clerk: Yes, sir. And we'll charge you an extra use fee plus the difference on your next gallon of paint. But I believe you're getting it now, sir. 

Customer: Forget it. I'll go with the wallpaper.

I hope this helps clear up the mystery for you. Good luck booking that next flight.

Have a good day. Be here tomorrow for the Halloween edition of Cartoon Saturday.



eViL pOp TaRt said...

A wonderful satire on airline pricing! It's a mystery. Sometimes I would just rather drive home.

Insane Penguin said...

I wish we still had rail service.

Mike said...

All this is exactly why I drove to Pittsburgh last week.

Margaret (Peggy or Peg too) said...

Oh I have some more good ones for you. I worked in the travel industry for 25 yrs. it was amazing. We must share over cocktails soon!

Elvis Wearing a Bra on His Head said...

If your local airport is dominated by one airline, they got you by the balls. But you mind and heart does not follow.

I fly out of BNA for the better connections.