I was on the Air Canada web site considering booking a flight when some “special offers” caught my eye. Apparently there is a flight to Las Vegas available for only $94. I wasn’t planning to go to Las Vegas, but I decided to click a few buttons while I daydreamed about a fun weekend.
After selecting some dates, I was dumped into a screen with the final price of $423.79. Apparently, the $94 was a one-way price. And a flurry of surcharges added another $235.79. I particularly liked the fuel surcharge. Is fuel optional?
The sad thing is that I was expecting worse. I doubt that very many readers are surprised at these numbers. How did we get to a place where we expect advertised prices to have nothing to do with the actual amount we have to pay?
I think it is a side effect of visible sales taxes. We’ve been conditioned from a young age that everything costs more than the advertised price. At first it was just a little bit more, but creative businesses have been pushing the envelope a little at a time until we have Air Canada showing me a final price more than four times the advertised price.
There are disadvantages of hidden sales taxes as well. It is common in Europe for prices to include any taxes. This makes it too easy for governments to raise sales taxes without too much fuss from voters. We’ve opted for the different evil of fantasy prices in advertising.
Maybe burger chains will start offering one-cent burgers with added fees for meat transportation, onion chopping, and hairnets. As long as they introduced these fees slowly enough, we’d probably just accept it.