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Airlines & Airports / The Travel Detective Exclusive

The Truth About the Cost of Airfare

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If you haven’t noticedi, airfares drive people crazy. They change all the time. Short trips are sometimes more expensive than long trips. Round-trip tickets can be cheaper than one-way, and the person sitting next to you always paid less than you did.

Here’s the latest way airfares frustrate people, and it’s not well known: airlines actually charge different prices for the same flight, depending on which direction you’re going.

That’s right. People who start a trip in Europe pay less than people who start in the United States, even though they travel the same distance on the same flights.

It’s not a difference in the value of currency. The difference comes from what airlines think people in one city are willing to pay.

Between New York and London, travelers paid $2,500 on average if they started in New York, and less than $1,700 if they began the trip departing from London.

That’s a whopping 50 percent difference.

You can get tickets on American Airlines for a nonstop flight from Dallas-Fort Worth to Madrid for about $1,250 round trip most of the year. But on a recent check, the same flight from Madrid to Dallas and back was only $684 round trip.

American says it runs sales in Spain that it doesn’t make available in the U.S.

Most of the differences happen on international routes, but it can happen on domestic trips as well.

The average price paid for tickets on Los Angeles-Honolulu round trips was $614 if you start the trip in Los Angeles, but only $571 if you start in Honolulu.

There’s more demand for those seats from people in Los Angeles than there is in Honolulu, and they’re willing to buy the expensive tickets when planes reach capacity.

There’s no cost difference to the airline for round-trip flights. In theory, the same number of passengers goes back and forth, since almost everyone goes home. So does it make sense for airlines to charge different prices? Of course not. But at least now you know.

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