Avoid this travel rip-off

8 January 2010

People looking to book flights during January have been warned to watch out for a common practice that could see you fork out a shocking 243% extra than another passenger on your flight.

A little-known system called 'code sharing' allows airlines to sell seats on another carrier’s flight at their own prices and under its own name. Many people don’t even realise that they will be flying with a different airline, because the coding on their flight will be that of the airline they originally booked with.

While the practice is perfectly legal, it comes at a high price for consumers as the cost of exactly the same flight can vary wildly if a particular route is operated by more than one airline.

According to new research, code sharing could see you pay 243% extra for a flight.

For example, a return flight booked this week with Flybe from Manchester to Milan at the end of February would set you back £81.84. Tickets on exactly the same flight but booked via British Airways’ website would have cost you £280.30.

Bob Atkinson, travel expert at travelsupermarket.com, which carried out the research,  says people need to be on their guard against code sharing.

“Airlines and travel agents must display who flights are ‘operated by’ when passengers make a booking, but we want to make people aware that if an airline is a code share partner it might not be offering best value,” he adds. “Once you know how to navigate and look around, you could save hundreds of pounds on flights.”

You can find out whether your ticket is actually for a flight with a completely different carrier by checking the small print. Shopping around is also a good way to avoid this practice – if you find your flight is code shared, check the price with the airline operating the flight to see if its direct fare is cheaper.

“Do not be fooled into thinking that you will get the same fare from the different airlines when they are code sharing,” Atkinson adds. “The operating airline will usually have the lowest fare – 11 out of the 12 were cheapest in my research, but it is always worth doing a few searches online when looking to book a flight.”

Code sharing has been around for about 20 years, and allow airlines to market each others’ routes and give greater benefits to customers in terms of schedules and fares.

Passengers who pick a particular airline because of the standard of service it offers are also at risk of being stung by code sharing.

For example, you might book business class on a British Airways flight because of the sleeper service it offers, only to end up on a different airline offering inferior amenities.

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