The Inside Word

Beware of ‘Class’ on flight comparison sites

A reader told us he found it frustrating to use sites such as Kayak and find that a search for First Class fares to Sydney would produce fares from some airlines, like Cathay Pacific, which actually only fly from London to Hong Kong with First and leave you in Business for the final sector to Australia.

Airlines do have a genuine problem with how they display fares for routes where they do not offer the same class throughout. If you search an airline’s own site for fares, you will sometimes find the result comes up as “no fare available” or, even worse, “no flights available”, which is very misleading. Many airlines have improved their systems so they can display the closest combination of classes to that requested, but not all of them highlight the fact that the requested class is not available on all flights. This happens quite often with First Class fares and frequently with Premium Economy, which many airlines only offer on a handful of routes. It is also an issue with connecting regional flights that may only offer Economy.

We do not see anything particularly wrong with this because it is better than the alternative of not showing fares at all, but we do have concerns with the comparison sites who do not spell out clearly what is being sold.

Another concern is the way some agents play fast and loose with airline systems and sell tickets with totally misleading labels through the comparison sites. For example, BA sells standard Business Class fares from Budapest to Dublin using its own flights which have Business on both sectors. Do a fare search on Kayak and you will find some agents selling what appears to be the same ticket for substantially less. They are linking BA Business fares to Heathrow with Aer Lingus Economy-only flights from Heathrow to Dublin using the BA codeshare on the Aer Lingus flight.

A search for flights in Business Class from Gatwick to Barcelona can produce fares from some dishonest agents using the BA codeshare with Vueling, which does not offer Business Class at all! Of course, these are much cheaper than the genuine BA flights from Gatwick to Barcelona that do have standard Business Class. Searches for longhaul Business flights can produce agents offering low fares in Premium Economy, and searches for Premium Economy produce quite a few pure Economy fares.

Some of the agents that list fares on the comparison sites are, to put it politely, cutthroat. Of course, coding mistakes happen, but there are too many for it to be pure chance. Sadly, the comparison sites do very little to police their sites.

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