The latest addition to the "less confusing" fares come from Air France and KLM, who have gone down the same "me too" route (what price "differentiation", anyone?) of having Light, Standard and Flexible fares. After the Lufthansa run in with the EU, though, Air France/ KLM (AF/KL) have made sure that you can still change your reservation in the Light category, for a fee of 70 Euros (plus any fare uplift).
Interestingly, what AF/KL have done, though, is to maintain the "Saturday Night" rule on local routes (a detail which is included in the "more" part of the online fare rules, should anyone bother to actually read them).
How does this work in practice? I decided to have a look at a KL route between AMS (Amsterdam) and MUC (Munich) with an outbound date of the 15th September returning on a) the 17th September and then b) the 16th September. I am comparing what I can see on my GDS to the lethargic, constantly interrupted with stuff you did not ask for, turgid point and click, airline website. (The website is fast enough, it is just that working with point and click is glacially slow along compared to an agents coded entry and a GDS does not have the incessant "Hey! You asked for this... but what about... or perhaps..." so called "marketing", which marketing of unasked for items constantly gets in the way of getting the job done).
For those of you not fully acquainted with a GDS, these systems have a coded entry and answer your question directly with a neutral picture of what is going on, across all airlines for any given routing. Fast and (which irritates the hell out of airlines) much easier to spot the best value for the client - aka you.
The best "Light" fare on the GDS, including a Saturday night was £138.10. Without a Saturday night £109.10 (!). The reason I took a date so far ahead, is to make sure all booking classes were open (that is, all fares are available). Book say, in two days time, the story is a little different. I can fly AMS to MUC on a Light fare of £286.30 (agent) or £291 (airline website), if I include a Saturday night stay, if I want to "include my bag" then the Standard fare is £326.10.
Of course, I can buy a Light fare and add a bag, where a bag costs £22.20 and a posh-er seat £10.20, making a total of £318.70. Now, I only want a bag one way and a seat one way. I can buy a Light Fare and add a bag and a seat one way and pay 360.67 Euros on the KLM website, or I can buy the "Standard" fare for 385.67 Euros (again online). Equivalent amount are £320 or £343 respectively.
Or, I can buy a Light fare from a travel agent at £286.30 plus a £15 fee (say) total £301.30 and then go online to add my seat and bag for 30 Euros (£27.00) making a total of £328.30. True, I could save £8.00 by not going down the travel agent route but for that £8, when things go pear-shaped, I can at least find someone who I can talk to, who knows what they are doing. Of course, we could look at buying two one way fares, with the Standard fare out and the Light fare back ......
So, the new simplified fares are, of course, much less confusing and does beg the question, are airlines finding more covert ways (perhaps, unintentionally) of nickel-and-diming passengers?
If you wish to add any further flights, then the old railway system of fares springs to mind. Hours spent researching one type of ticket for this part, another for that part and yet another ticket with a special railcard for another part of the journey.
What was most simple, was the fare system that existed may moons past, when if you wanted to travel short haul within Europe, without a Saturday night, the best you could hope for was the old "Eurobudget" fare. It was not cheap but it was not silly money (by comparison) either - and airlines could afford to give you a half decent seat and a bit of snap en route to boot. The beauty of it was, that a Eurobudget fare meant that you paid your £23 to change and you got home on the next flight, if there was room, irrespective of the brand name on the side of the aircraft. (Eurobudget was far enough up the fare-food-chain to mean that a fare uplift was a rare requirement).
Airline websites (and to a greater or lesser extent all airfare websites) make a grave mistake in that they all assume that any user is looking for the cheapest. Certainly, from a business travel perspective (and that is where the money is) "the cheapest" is NOT what is wanted. In business travel, what you are trying to do, is find the most cost-effective solution to meet the requirement of the client, which is not the same thing at all.