The Curious Case of the Missing Tax
The other day, I booked a RyanAir flight for a customer. They did not take the flight, so out of curiosity (more than anything else) I wondered if I could recover the unused tax. I expected a administration charge, but nonetheless.
Now, if you are looking on the RyanAir website for a traditional ticket breakdown, you won't get one; at least, I could not find one. There is nothing on the RyanAir site that tells you how much you paid as a fare and how much you paid as tax. Researching onwards, I found that the same issue arose on the Easyjet site.
So, how much should the tax be? As a test, I looked at a RyanAir and an Easyjet flight from London Gatwick to Alicante and compared this to British Airways. We know that everyone has to pay APD (and we know how much fuss low cost types make about that subject).
So for British Airways, London Gatwick to Alicante we have a fare of £78 plus taxes of £35.42, made up of 13.00GB, 12.72UB, 6.00JD, 0.50 OG and 3.20QV. The £13.00 is for the APD and £12.72 is, basically, for the privilege of using Gatwick. The remaining taxes are Spanish. Interestingly, there was no YQ tax on any of the tickets - that mysterious "fuel surcharge" which, Harry Potter like, magically and with as little fanfare as possible, became "carrier imposed surcharges"
What of RyanAir? Now, I looked the fare up on Sabre on the premise that the Sabre fare should, at least show the taxes... but it doesn't. For RyanAir, all we are shown is £79.98 and that's it. Easyjet just (at least) shows the APD of £13.00. So, either low cost carriers are somehow exempt from taxes... or such taxes are deemed unimportant and are buried so that any application for a refund may be washed under the table on the premise that, as you don't know what they are, the low cost airline could tell you any story they like .... and pocket £35.52, less admin fee - Well, at least £10 for every missed flight. Given that quite a few people must miss flights... quite a tidy sum over time.
Is this right? To my mind, well.... No. If you are not using a flight, then any unused taxes are rightfully yours. One can understand a notional administration charge but how can anyone really tell what they may be entitled to, if you are not given a breakdown in the first place?
How many would be happy for a utility company to simply say: "You owe us £123.65" without any breakdown. Or for your local garage to say: "The repair cost for your car is £297.60" and if you ask: "What for?" Then they say: "Well.... Stuff"
Yet we are quite happy for a low cost airline to say "It costs £79.98". No breakdown between fare and what is payable as APD or anything else. This is real money and part of that money, should you not fly, should rightfully be returned - and should be returned with good grace.
I have not experimented as yet with any Online Travel Agents (there is no need for me to use online agents to book flights as I have on my desk Sabre - one of the leading airline distribution platforms) I suspect, however, that the refund story may not be dis-similar.
Time, perhaps, for the UK Office of Fair Trading to take a closer look at what may be considered by some to be a rather sharp practice.