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Right brain has the right stuff

Vijay Verghese, Editor, Smart Travel AsiaHow women beat strapping big men at bagging the best deals in the air. Is spotting sales a gender thing? Research suggests it is.


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by Vijay Verghese/ Editor

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I’VE BEEN saying for a long time that women can read bar codes. It’s true. It’s something in the genes. Or maybe it’s the small print on the counter. Women can scan a row of veggies at the grocery story and immediately compute the cheapest combination while men stare at the packaging and wonder whether that dark Belgian chocolate will look good in a red Porsche. Men buy stuff because it’s shiny. Women buy stuff because it’s on sale.

I’m glad to say my entirely unscientific theories have been given a fillip by, of all people, Carlson Wagonlit Travel who undertook a data analysis of 6.4 million air travel transactions to spot gender differences in purchase habits.

The survey found that women on average booked air tickets 1.9 days earlier than men with the result they saved two percent more than their male counterparts. Extrapolate this and, “for companies with 1,000 business travelers, the difference – and therefore the potential saving – is just under US$50,000 a year,” says CWT.

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A collaboration between Ohio State University and Arizona State University, ‘advanced statistical techniques’ and observations were used to gather data, including perhaps thus far unseen footage of men being frogmarched out of sports car stores with their ears savagely pinched by irate wives.

The white paper identifies age as another factor in ticket bookings – older people tend to buy tickets well in advance. We would add that older people tend to arrive at the airport much earlier too, causing accompanying kids to throw Biblical tantrums as they miss American Idol yet again in order to reach the airport three hours early.

{The survey found that women on average booked air tickets 1.9 days earlier than men... and saved two percent more than their male counterparts

Nothing quite beats the sight of a seasoned business traveller in full flow who waltzes into the airport 30 minutes before his flight shooting cannonades of selfies, only to get the bum’s rush as the flight is overbooked and the check-in counter has closed. Yes it happens. Regardless of age it is wise to get in early, especially during a Bangkok or Manila downpour. In Jakarta’s legendary traffic you may need to leave the night before and bivouac on the back of a scooter limo en route.

The big leveller on early bookings is frequent travel, which reduces or eliminates advance purchases. As frequency of travel rises, the survey notes that the gender gap disappears with most business travellers opting to buy tickets closer to time of travel. This offers a tiny clue as to how airlines prey on frequent travellers to bulk up on yield despite the fact that half the planeload is flying on chin-deep discounts. Inelastic demand = highest fares.

The simplest rule in buying the cheapest air tickets is to get things wrapped up early – anywhere between 45 days and five months in advance. Watch for busy days like Monday (a business traveller favourite) and Friday. These are more expensive as are early flights on weekdays – again favoured by frequent travellers.

Opt for inconvenience. That’s right, inconvenience. The more convenient a flight in terms of time and routing, the more expensive it is likely to be. Indirect flights are cheaper than direct, as are red-eyes and overnight services. In other words, flying Hong Kong to London via Dubai is cheaper than flying nonstop.

I learned this the hard way while working for a rather careful employer in my youth when ‘indirect’ appeared doubly alluring with two or more opportunities to chat up stewardesses and dip into the free beer. In those days flights followed the milk run – Bangkok – New Delhi – Damascus – Rome – London – Madrid – New York…

In those days travellers in the know purchased mighty wads of coupon tickets from weak currency cities like Kathmandu or Jakarta where fares were priced far lower than in cities like London, Tokyo or Hong Kong. They used the coupons they wanted and discarded the rest. Alas, electronic tickets have brought that freewheeling lifestyle to an end.

Bigger airports are often cheaper to fly through than smaller ones, which may charge airlines more in landing fees. The hub-and-spoke system of connecting flights (INCONVENIENT) serves up better fares while offering hours of lobotomizing in-flight video reruns, if you considered that a perk.

Fly 1am via Kabul and Ouagadougou (hideously INCONVENIENT, possibly INSANE) and you’re assured a massive deal if any airline has the moxie to fly Hong Kong to New York through such whimsically uncharted waters. But not on Ariana Afghan Airlines, rated as one of the least safe in the world, and not just on account of the missiles chasing creaking aircraft along with irate passengers.

Interestingly, the time of purchase (during the day) can also impact on price. This is because ticket inventories get unloaded at certain times. An ideal time to shop is Tuesday afternoon when airlines tend to dump inventory after examining weekend sales.

Finally, no matter how cheap your ticket, get a woman to look at it.

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