Carousel in Johanessburg airport South Africa Saffari from Cape Town took, although he usually writes about graffiti.

On Today’s Episode of Saffari’s a Bleeding Naan Bread: Missing a Flight – An Exploration of Price Discrimination.

Now I recon you aren’t particularly interested in my carelessness, nor am I particularly interested in sharing this with the world. That being said, here’s the story of how I managed to blow a whole month’s budget misreading the fine print.

It kicks off with waking up late, slightly hungover, and not fully packed.

That’s fine, I can pull this around, surely. 

Speed shower. Speed dress. Speed pack. Speed off to the airport. Right, lekka, let’s check the flight number on this bad boy. I’m cutting it fine but, with a little luck, there shouldn’t be an issue. Wait, wait, wait, what’s this? 7:00 is not the take-off time I remember. That can’t be right, it’s already past that. FUCK.

Turns out, the landing time is what I read, so I am not quite late for my flight, but in fact quite late for the landing. Something the ticket counter lady later tells me “EVERYBODY does!”, later confirmed by mother-dearest, with “I did exactly the same shit!”  Right. No time to panic, only time to operate. 

Incognito mode on, so they don’t track the cookies and unduly overcharge me – something that would make a difficult day even more so. Check which flights are the soonest out. There’s one leaving in an hour or so. Right-o, head over to the airline counter, am informed that the flight will set me back X amount, which all considered is not too bad. 

I’m not sure where the ticket lady gets off, because the price was actually 2X. A number far harder to swallow. In fact my whole month’s budget, food and all. That’s beside the point and some things are more important, so I guess off we go. 

This little price trick happens because being humans – only hardly – or thanks to all their snazzy market research, marketers have figured out that in a pinch, people will pay almost whatever-the-fuck they need to, to get what they need to get done, done. A nice little play on relative importance. If you’d like to be snazzy like these marketers, the key terminology here is Price inelastic. This basically means that the number of people buying something is not significantly impacted by the price asked for said something. Things like cigarettes and booze are great examples of this. 

A key factor here is that flights are by-the-by the same thing. There’s very little difference between flying Mango versus Kulula, no matter what they try and tell you. Another key factor here is that tickets are sold to individuals and are tough to transfer, this prevents the good ole practice of arbitrage. 

In a market of one consumer, where changing price costs close to nothing to the airline. They refine this down to price discrimination. Again, fairly esoteric. Well not really, basically they get as much for their flights as possible, by offering those with forethought a reduced (read: fair) rate, while amping said rate up with every passing hour. To the point that, if you really need to get from point A to point B, speedily, you’re going to have the weight benefit of a lighter wallet. Essentially meaning you’re part of a different consumer group, hence “Third-degree price discrimination.” Another snazzy little economics term. You’re welcome.

In essence: Damn it! Damn airlines! Damn strapped for cash now! Being clued up on economics doesn’t protect you from yourself. 


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