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Fly overseas at dirt-cheap rates
Nanditta Chibber | November 01, 2005
When airfares for international destinations are offered at unimaginably low rates, the Indian traveller's distant locales do not seem so distant. The world suddenly shrinks; and if airfare to London is available at a price usually offered for Hong Kong, business and leisure travellers alike will have every reason to change their travel plans to get the best deals.
The Indian government's 'open sky' policy, which is now partially implemented, and will become absolutely implemented in December and January, has airline companies -- domestic as well as international -- in a frenzy. Everyone's rushing to fill the 95,000 additional seats a week with attractive promotions and fares.
The entry of some new airlines and new routes by existing airlines has led to price cutting or, as airline officials like to say, "price offerings". And these promotional fares on international routes have travellers pushing their travel agents to all possible limits to get the lowest of low airfares.
American Airlines, in a code-share agreement with Air Sahara, will launch its direct flight between Delhi and Chicago on November 17, where a round trip is Rs 38,000 -- a flat rate for the whole of economy class for a month (plus additional taxes and surcharges, as is the case for all rates below).
Sharing the expenses, infrastructure and profits with American Airlines, an Air Sahara official says, "It's simplifying operations. Costs come down so that one gets the lowest fares for the fastest flights."
New York is also on the list with a direct flight from Delhi commencing November 3 by Continental Airlines, which is setting up base in India with Stic Travels. This flight also has a promotional fare of Rs 38,000 (round trip), but not as a flat rate for all of economy class, but only a section of it. It has even slashed business class fares to 50 per cent at Rs 1,23,000.
India's premier private airline, Jet Airways, launched its first direct flight from Delhi to London (it already has one from Mumbai) on October 30 this year, its promotional offer of Rs 19,000 (round trip, economy class) is matched by almost every other airline flying that route -- Air India, British Airways, Lufthansa, Air France and others.
Jet Airways' other promotional offer to London with a companion for Rs 29,000 has travel agents sweating, pressured by travellers to get that deal anyway they can. Lufthansa on the other hand is aggressively promoting Amazing Autumn and Munich Mania where fares to Europe and the United States via Munich are equally slashed.
"Its a dynamic market where seats are chasing passengers," says Jeetendra Bhargava of Air India. Air India's special fares for London/Paris/Frankfurt at Rs 18,990 and Chicago/New York/Los Angeles at Rs 37,990 are as competitive as any other airline.
"The airline industry in India is witnessing aggressive marketing, like any other sector where capacity induction will continue. Competition is fine," says Bhargava as Air India plans to start direct flights to New York and Chicago next year, having placed its orders for eight Boeings.
Demand-supply dynamics, according to the season and capacity of airlines, decide the number of seats that an airline is willing to sell for the lowest fare segment. But attractive fares, advertised with no indication about how many seats are available on them, have customers confused.
For example, Joginder Singh, a traveller who earlier was unable to get the promotional fare for Jet Airways to London but was "miraculously issued one a week later".
Though the business traveller market for most airlines remains steady, it's the leisure traveller who is enjoying the best deals and planning holidays on special fares.
Frequent flyers can benefit with free tickets against air miles as in the case of a senior government official whose business trips have earned him enough air miles to book free tickects for his family of four for a holiday in Europe. Low fares as promotional offers have even forced airlines like British Airways and Singapore Airlines, considered steeply priced airlines, to slash their fares.
"Competition is always healthy, as it generates incremental traffic," says B K Ong, general manager, India, Singapore Airlines, where the fares for its Diwali Sparkles promotion has ex-Mumbai daily direct flights to Singapore/Kuala Lumpur/Penang for Rs 10,500 (round trip) and from Kolkata for as low as Rs 6,000.
"India is a robust market in which we have great confidence. There is room for everybody and opportunities for more airlines," says Ong as Singapore Airlines plans to operate from its eighth city in India -- Hyderabad -- from October 30.
But do special offers and promotional fares spoil the consumer? "It does, and will become difficult to explain to customers when such promotions and special fares are withdrawn from the market," says Balbir S Mayal of New Airways Travels and ex-president of the Travel Agents Association of India, adding that these advertising campaigns "make it difficult for the consumer to change their mindset for prices and travel agents as well as customers need to be told that they are transitory".
As getting visa clearances is the biggest hurdle for travellers to the United States and Europe, Singh predicts that the business on these routes is likely to grow by 10 per cent and on Far East routes by 20 per cent (where visas are issued more easily) in the next six months.
This is a time when airfares on international routes will fluctuate rapidly; when new airlines will try to establish themselves in the Indian market and existing ones are already planning promotions for their next new international destination; when government policies will become favourable, allowing airlines to extract the best from India's surging economic growth; and when the consumer will enjoy some of the best airfare deals for the first time.