Mumbai: If you think Indian airlines have restored the apex fares to January levels in response to civil aviation minister Praful Patel’s tough talk last week, look again.
For one, the so-called apex fares—cheaper tickets offered for booking in advance—never made an exit. Worse, they have now gone up—the apex fares come at a higher rate than earlier with additional clauses and only for routes not longer than 750km, such as from Mumbai to Goa.
Last Monday, airlines raised their fares by Rs1,200-2,000, not including taxes and surcharges, and withdrew promotional fares such as Re1 and Rs99 tickets, after nearly two months of unsuccessfully trying to get back passengers.
Plan early: Passengers boarding a GoAir aircraft. The low-fare carrier is offering zero-base fare tickets only for bookings made at least 30 days ahead of the travel date; as the date approaches, the fare goes up. Madhu Kapparath / Mint
Two days later, after Patel criticized the fare hikes and said the government would take action if reports of cartelization proved right, Jet Airways (India) Ltd, the country’s largest private airline by passengers carried, announced Rs300 fares on tickets booked at least 30 days in advance, but only for certain short routes that don’t see much traffic. Its low-fare carrier JetLite (India) Ltd has offered tickets at Re1. The offers end on 30 April.
Kingfisher Airlines Ltd is also offering Re1 fares for tickets booked 30 days in advance on short routes such as Delhi-Jaipur and Delhi-Srinagar.
Full-fare airlines such as National Aviation Co. of India Ltd, or Nacil, which runs Air India, Jet Airways, Kingfisher and Paramount Airways Ltd hiked fares ahead of the March-July season that typically sees more air travellers.
“Kingfisher Airlines tried some aggressive pricing during January 2009 to stimulate demand in response to the civil aviation minister’s call to reduce airfare but it didn’t work and passenger traffic did not get stimulated and see an upward swing and consequently, load factors did not go up,” Vijay Mallya, chairman and chief executive of Kingfisher Airlines, said in an email reply. “In January, all we succeeded in doing was maintaining the same load factor and having lower revenue, which obviously is not a sensible way of doing business. So, we decided we would just go back to the December 2008 fare levels.”
Airlines websites and travel agents say all the airlines are maintaining their apex fares, but by raising the levels. For instance, Air India has changed the advance booking window to 10, 20 and 30 days from 7, 14 and 21 days, respectively. These changes have resulted in 2-40% increase in apex fares, agents said.
“Air India has increased the fare levels of apex structure and days for advance booking. Jet Airways has also maintained its apex fare system and added some routes into it. But Jet Airways has also increased the fare level. You will not see those Rs250 fares in apex schemes,” said Regi Philip, who runs Cosmos Agencies, a travel agency in Mumbai. “As per the old apex schemes, Jet Airways used to offer base of Rs250 per ticket. Now it has jacked up to Rs600 and Rs833 in select routes and time.”
Low-fare Go Airlines (India) Pvt. Ltd, too, has widened the booking window on its apex fares. “We have decided to revert to the ever-so-familiar and simple option of buy early, pay less. So, for example, travellers booking in advance of 30-plus days, will avail of a zero base fare (only taxes and surcharge) and as the date of departure approaches, fare price will increase,” Edgardo Badiali, CEO, GoAir, said in an email reply.
Delhi-based SpiceJet Ltd, another low-fare carrier, on 13 February announced an apex fare scheme with tickets as low as Re1 (base fare) for booking 30 days ahead of the date of travel.