Jump onto Expedia or Priceline to search for a flight, and you’ll likely see an “opaque” fare: a price with no carrier or even the exact time. How does this help, one might ask. Well, it’s not meant to help you; it’s meant to help the airlines.
These mysterious fares are a tool that can help carriers move seats they have a hard time selling. This strategy is now turning even more complex with “secret fares,” the next evolution in the airline quest to more tightly control ticketing inventory and the costs imposed by companies that distribute their fares. It even involves an app.
On Wednesday, the mobile-only travel seller Hopper Inc. began offering these “secret fares” from a half-dozen airlines, including Air Canada, at prices that could be as much as 35 percent below what the same carriers publish elsewhere. The initial 60,000 routes covered will be international and mostly long-haul. The minimum discount is 5 percent below fares offered with full details elsewhere, according to Hopper.
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Carriers the world over are keen to differentiate themselves—and the experience of flying with them—from rivals. This is part of an industry-wide move to train travelers to assess their flights on attributes beyond price, long the key criterion for consumers when deciding which airline to fly. Customers who select a secret price may find themselves on an airline they never considered before. Who knows? They might like it.
These obscured fares also point to a day when airlines will be better able to dynamically price tickets…