From the publisher: Nov 2017

By Bruce Piper

Where did the year go? It’s November already, and in many previous years the industry would be in a frenzy of activity as airlines released earlybird fares to capitalise on pent-up demand from bargain seeking prospective travellers in 2018. This year, things seem to have played out differently.

It’s not that there’s a lack of airfare deals out there — but there certainly seems to be some confusion about what constitutes an earlybird. Traditionally the deals were released with a fanfare and lots of conditions, offering a range of value-adds and special pricing for those willing to pay a long way in advance for their travel in the following northern summer. This year, so-called “earlybird” deals have been released with booking periods as short as one day, and with availability over the upcoming Australian peak season rather than a longer term travel period.

I suspect we have just about seen the end of traditional earlybird airfares. The proliferation of carriers flying from Australia has seen such strong competition that consumers are inured to the urgency created by earlybird deals. Travellers know that if they miss out on a particular offer, there will be one just as good — or perhaps even better — the next week.

As always, bargain airfares are touted as good for the customer, and let’s hope they stimulate demand too. Some of the amazing deals on offer recently have included a $1,030 return fare from Perth to Istanbul with Qatar Airways, while the US is also hot with Qantas last month offering economy return flights from Sydney to Dallas for just $1,150.

MEANWHILE Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines last month took the unprecedented step of advising suppliers it would impose a new charge if they wanted to keep dealing with them. Described as a means for the cruise line to “reduce financial exposure and ensure a strong supplier base,” the initiative requires companies to register with commercial information provider Dun & Bradstreet, paying a fee based on their annual sales to the cruise firm levied as a “Debit Memo” from a future invoice.

RCL told travelBulletin only twelve suppliers in Australia were affected by the change. Nevertheless the principle of charging suppliers for the privilege of dealing with the company smacks of the type of conduct which attracted the attention of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission in its dealings with supermarket giant Coles in 2011.

About 200 suppliers were involved in that case, which saw Coles “demanding payments from suppliers to which it was not entitled”. While this move is not on the same scale, back then the ACCC exacted a hefty $10m fine from Coles — something Royal Caribbean would want to avoid!

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