As the European Commission moves to crack down on airlines and hidden luggage charges, one airline has ramped up a propaganda campaign of its own – against online travel agents (OTAs). The timing is interesting.
Piracy versus data-mining
The Irish carrier’s spat with OTAs has been going on for some time, with Ryanair demanding the OTAs share flyer information direct with the airline, and OTAs accusing Ryanair of mining that passenger data to steal customers by the back door.
It’s in that context of a war of words then, that Ryanair’s has released its so-called November “audit”, ranking online travel agents and the additional fees they charge to customers. The piece claims to name the worst OTA offenders for overselling and price-gouging on Ryanair’s most bargain-some deals. Kiwi takes the “most wanted” spot in the list of pirates, accused of marking up a Ryanair ticket by 344%.
Unfortunately, Ryanair’s accusations and survey are hard to take seriously because the press release and audit read more like a personal tirade from CEO Michael O’Leary, than an industry-quality marketplace review. The release is peppered with unusually emotive language such as “scam”, “masquerade”, “rampant”, “egregious” (at least twice), “pirates” and, with a special mention, “unsuspecting customers” five times in the last two paragraphs.
Michael O’Leary, whose vocal stylings and tone sound remarkably like the rest of the press release, is quoted as saying, “We find it extraordinary that the UK Govt, its consumer agencies (the CMA & CAA) or the useless consumer magazines such as Which?, continue to ignore this rampant internet piracy and anti-consumer mis-selling. Ryanair continues to expose these duplicitous and unlawful practices and will continue to call for these OTA pirates to be outlawed and their scams ended.”
Meanwhile the airline’s 29-page “audit” consists of 26 pages of screenshots of various online travel agent websites, highlighting differences between their prices and those available on Ryanair. No methodology or data analysis approach is given.
The audit ranks the supposed “worst offenders”, whose names are also spelled out in no uncertain terms in the accompanying ranty news release. Kiwi.com, Lastminute.com, Opodo.com and eDreams.com are accused of continuing “to scam unsuspecting consumers with unjustified fees and charges for their non-existent services”.
The value placed on price comparison
Among the services most of these online travel agents do actually offer, is of course, price comparison. Could it be that some customers are prepared to pay the middleman fee that Ryanair finds so unpalatable, so that they can see a variety of different flights from different airlines at different times all in one place, and use filters to compare what they’re getting?
Being able to compare the costs of flights and associated luggage is something, as noted at the start of this article, that the EU knows customers want and it is preparing to legislate for, unless airlines come together to standardise luggage pricing themselves.
So is Ryanair feeling the squeeze, caught between a double scourge: its arch-enemy, those “price scraping” flight comparison sites, and the idea of being forced to make its pricing more transparent, easier to comply with and better in line with other airlines?