Friday, January 27, 2012

The Price of Free, Part I

The airline industry has an interesting way of defining free: by charging you for it.

In fact, the airline industry complicates “free” so much, that it’s going to take a few One Big Yodel posts to cover just how complicated free can be.

Let’s start with fares for infants, since Ms. One Big Yodel now has one.

Supposedly, infants (defined by children under two) fly free. I decided to test this theory by booking a flight.

Here’s what “free” means, defined by two different airlines for the same round-trip flight:


Infant price:

-Fare CHF 44

-Fuel Surcharge CHF 328

-Airport taxes CHF 52

TOTAL “FREE” FARE: CHF 424 ($460)

ZURICH to CHICAGO on UNITED (same code-share flight as SWISS)

Infant price: $106.40 (includes one 5-minute dropped call, one 45-minute phone call with a non-native English speaker, and plenty of bad on-hold music to determine)

TOTAL “FREE” FARE: $106.40


1) As we all knew, nothing is free in Switzerland

2) The USA is no longer the Land of the Free but is still much cheaper than Switzerland

3) The only thing free about the infant ticket was the headache it took to figure out the best price

Have you been amazed by the airline industry recently?


Allison L said...

Sounds like total nightmare. Free is definitely not free. Hope you have a nice flight with the baby. If you don't get bulkhead seats. Way in the back in some of the Swiss Air planes is a row of three seats that is just after a row of four. You can angle you feet to the sides and stretch them out all the way. It was so glorious.

Once while looking at flights from Zurich to Chicago also. I came across my favorite wtf? $1,700 to fly on Swiss Airlines. United was $4902 but was a code share with Swiss Airline. Same exact flight with a difference of more than $3000.

Chantal said...

Yeah, the airline prices make no sense. It definitely pays to do your homework because it can save you a lot.

We did finally get bulkhead seats although the United agent I had to pay $50 to in order to book our seats couldn't actually make the seat arrangements, go figure. For that, I had to call SWISS. I've had so much bad on-hold music over the last two days that hopefully I have had my fill for the year.

Stephanie said...

What a hassle! If you need a good, honest travel agent, my husband's sister works for a travel agency. We always go through her to get the best deals on flights to the U.S. (and it's comforting to know we aren't being short-changed in the process). I would be happy to pass on her information if you'd like. Just email me at

Chantal said...

Thanks, Stephanie. Maybe for a future flight I will consider her!

pimalai said...

So much for being free. It's such a hassle that airlines can blatantly lie to their customers. It really does pay to read the fine print and between the lines.

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