Select your language

Suggested languages for you:
Log In Start studying!
StudySmarter - The all-in-one study app.
4.8 • +11k Ratings
More than 3 Million Downloads
Free
|
|

All-in-one learning app

  • Flashcards
  • NotesNotes
  • ExplanationsExplanations
  • Study Planner
  • Textbook solutions
Start studying

Price Discrimination: Airline Tickets

Save Save
Print Print
Edit Edit
Sign up to use all features for free. Sign up now
Economics

Have you ever tried buying airline tickets with your family or friends? Most of the time the prices for these tickets are changing. Prices might increase when your try to book a weekend flight or if you add check-in luggage. The constant changing of airline tickets is no coincidence. There is a perfectly understandable explanation for this. Read on to find out what it is!

What is price discrimination?

To understand the price changes for airline tickets, we need to understand what price discrimination means.

As hinted by the term, price discrimination relates to when the same or similar goods/services are sold at different prices.

Price discrimination is a selling strategy that charges customers different prices for the same product or service based on what the seller thinks they can get consumers to agree to.

There are three types of price discrimination:

  1. First-degree price discrimination.
  2. Second-degree price discrimination.
  3. Third-degree price discrimination.

First-degree price discrimination

First-degree price discrimination is also known as the purest form of price discrimination or perfect price discrimination. This is when a seller charges consumers the maximum possible price they are willing to pay.

Price discrimination: Airline tickets Airline pricing graph StudySmarterFigure 1. First-degree price discrimination - StudySmarter.

As Figure 1 illustrates, the producers get all the total surplus. In this case, there is no consumer surplus.

Second-degree price discrimination

Second-degree price discrimination occurs when a seller charges a different price for different quantities consumed. Examples of this are loyalty cards rewards or discounts for consumers, so that they can purchase more.

Price Discrimination: Airline Tickets Airline Dynamic pricing StudySmarterFigure 2. Second-degree price discrimination - StudySmarter.

As figure 2 illustrates, firms initially put the price of a particular good or service at P1. The discounted price is P2. Consumers benefit from the lower price and that increases their consumer surplus and firms also benefit from the extra revenue.

Third-degree price discrimination

Third-degree price discrimination occurs when a seller charges a different price to different customer groups. A classic example is some cinemas that often have different prices for children, students, adults, and the elderly.

Price Discrimination: Airline Tickets Airline tickets dynamic pricing graph explanation StudySmarterFigure 3. Third-degree price discrimination - StudySmarter.

Figure 3 illustrates third-degree price discrimination. The whole market is split into two categories: elastic and inelastic consumers. Firms charge elastic consumers the lowest price. For example, cinemas charge students a lower price since they have less disposable income and are more sensitive to price changes. Inelastic consumers are charged the highest price. In our cinema example, adults tend to be charged the highest price as they have more disposable income and are less sensitive to price changes compared to other groups.

Types of pricing strategies adopted for airline tickets

Airlines use a combination of price discrimination and dynamic pricing in the pricing strategy for airline tickets. In the airline industry, airlines practice price discrimination in a number of ways:

  1. How far the travel date is: a ticket that is bought in advance is usually cheaper compared to a ticket bought at the last minute.
  2. Travel peak times: travelling during the weekends tends to be more expensive than travelling during weekdays. Travelling during the summer or Easter holidays also tends to be more expensive.
  3. Unsocial hours: travelling during the early mornings and late nights is cheaper, as fewer people tend to travel at those times.
  4. Extras: customers usually have to pay more for seats (in the same class) with more legroom to for check-in luggage.

Airline tickets and third-degree price discrimination

In the airline industry, customers are usually grouped into two customer groups: leisure and business. This demonstrates that the airline industry tends to practice third-degree price discrimination.

Grouping is done this way due to the distinct behaviours between the two groups. Customers who are travelling for the purpose of leisure are more likely to be sensitive to price and so would tend to book in advance to get cheaper tickets. Leisure travellers take advantage of 'advanced purchase' discounts, as the prices of tickets gradually get more expensive as the day of departure approaches. This is also because leisure travellers would have more elastic demand due to their sensitivity to price.

People who travel for business purposes, however, need more flexibility in comparison to those who travel for leisure and so would book only a few days in advance. Airlines would take advantage of their more inelastic demand and charge at higher prices.

Airline dynamic pricing

A demand-based pricing strategy that solely relies on grouping passengers as either ‘leisure or business travellers’ is not the most effective discrimination as it does not accurately capture the consumer landscape.

That is why airlines today use what is known as a dynamic pricing strategy. This strategy takes into account real-time data on consumer buying patterns.

Dynamic pricing is a technique of pricing a product according to current market conditions.

With the use of dynamic pricing, the prices of tickets change in real-time based on the market data. This involves things such as customer behaviour, competitor prices, and popular events such as music festivals (like Coachella). Other factors like fuel prices, ground handling, and the cost of carrying an additional traveller are also filtered into the prices of tickets.

Airline price discrimination example: Southwest Airlines

One real-life example of price discrimination in the airline industry is Southwest Airlines.

A randomly chosen one way trip from Philadelphia, PA (PHL) to Los Angeles, CA (LAX) on Tuesday, January 18 (a weekday) would cost between $366 - $456 US dollars. However, on Saturday, January 22 (a weekend) the same trip would cost between $127 - $217.

Weekdays tickets tend to be more expensive for this specific route, as it is a common assumption that customers who buy a weekday ticket are travelling for business purposes. They have inelastic demand as they must be in Los Angeles for work. They have no other option, so they are more willing to pay a higher price.

On the other hand, weekend tickets are usually cheaper because people who travel during the weekend do so for leisure. If prices are too high they would opt for cheaper alternatives. Therefore, they have elastic demand so airlines charge them lower prices.

It is also relevant to note that similar to other airlines, Southwest charges different prices at different times of the day: early morning and late-night flights are less expensive due to less demand.

Economic effects of price discrimination in the airline market

The engagement of the airline market in price discrimination has both positive and negative effects on all economic agents: consumers, firms, governments, and third parties.

Positive effects

Some of the positive effects of price discrimination are:

  • Capacity. Charging at different prices enables airlines to make better use of their capacity. This means that they are able to ensure that customers use each flight optimally. It prevents waste in the form of insufficient seats being occupied in a flight. This can also have environmental benefits, as airlines would try to fill up flights, selling seats at the best price possible. In other words, it spreads out demand and prevents flight congestion.
  • Revenue. If airlines only charged one high set price, they would lose elastic consumers. Being able to separate consumers based on different conditions allows them to continue to make revenue, even if the price is not at the profit maximising point.
  • Lower price. Elastic consumers are charged a lower price compared to inelastic consumers. They benefit from the lower price. This lower price increases their consumer surplus and utility.
  • Higher profits. Airlines benefit from inelastic consumers who are willing to pay higher fees. They receive higher profits which they can later use to re-invest back for research that will help them improve their ticket pricing strategy.

Negative effects

Some of the negative effects of price discrimination are:

  • Loss in consumer surplus. Consumer surplus is extracted from inelastic consumers when airlines charge higher prices. Airlines benefit as they make supernormal profits, but inelastic consumers lose out.
  • Potentially unfair. Price inelastic consumers, such as business travellers may not all be high-income earners. This may also be unfair and inequitable if they are charged a higher price. But we could argue that most companies wi¡ould pay for the tickets instead of the direct consumer.
  • Administration costs. It costs the airlines a lot of money to separate the market and carry out extensive research into dynamic pricing. If these administrative costs are too high, airlines could pass it onto consumers through higher prices.

Price Discrimination: Airline Tickets - Key takeaways

  • Price discrimination is a selling strategy that charges customers different prices for the same product or service, based on what the seller thinks they can get consumers to agree to.
  • The three types of price discrimination are first-degree price discrimination, second-degree price discrimination, and third-degree price discrimination.
  • The types of pricing strategy in the airline industry are price discrimination and dynamic pricing.
  • Dynamic pricing is a technique of pricing a product according to current market conditions.
  • Price discrimination in the airline industry includes:
    1. Time of buying the ticket - a ticket that is bought in advance is usually cheaper.
    2. Travel peak times such as weekends are more expensive.
    3. Unsocial hours are cheaper, as fewer people tend to travel at those times.
    4. Extras - tickets with check-in luggage and more legroom are more expensive.

Price Discrimination: Airline Tickets

Price discrimination is a selling strategy that charges customers different prices for the same product or service based on what the seller thinks they can get consumers to agree to. 

Airlines do this in order to maximise their profits. 

Price discrimination is generally not harmful to the economy. However, it can be harmful to the economy when it leads to misdistribution of resources to the point that output and profits are not maximised. 

Third-degree price discrimination is when a seller charges a different price to different customer groups. This is done between business and leisure travellers in the airline industry.  

Final Price Discrimination: Airline Tickets Quiz

Question

What is price discrimination?

Show answer

Answer

Price discrimination is a selling strategy that charges customers different prices for the same product or service, based on what the seller thinks they can get consumer to agree to.

Show question

Question

What are the types of price discrimination?

Show answer

Answer

The three types of price discrimination are: first-degree price discrimination, second-degree price discrimination and third-degree price discrimination.

Show question

Question

What is first-degree price discrimination?

Show answer

Answer

 First degree discrimination is also referred to as the purest form of price discrimination or perfect price discrimination, as the seller would try to charge the consumer at the maximum possible price for each unit consumed. 

Show question

Question

What is second-degree price discrimination? 

Show answer

Answer

Second-degree price discrimination is the one which occurs when a company charges a different price for different quantities consumed, such as discounts given for more purchases. 

Show question

Question

What is third-degree price discrimination?

Show answer

Answer

Third-degree price discrimination on the other hand occurs when a seller charges a different price to different customer groups. a classic example is a cinema which often has different prices for children, students, adults and the elderly. 

Show question

Question

What type of pricing strategy do airlines adopt for their tickets?

Show answer

Answer

Airlines use a combination of price discrimination and dynamic pricing in the pricing strategy for airline tickets. 

Show question

Question

In what ways is price discrimination practiced in the airline industry? 

Show answer

Answer

  1. Time of buying the ticket - a ticket that is bought in advance is usually cheaper. 
  2. Travel peak times such as weekends are more expensive. 
  3. Unsocial hours are cheaper, as less people tend to travel at those times.
  4. More is paid for seats (within the same class) with more leg room.
  5. People are charged extra for having check-in luggage. For instance, local airline might require people to pay for luggage allowance.   

Show question

Question

In the airline industry, customers are usually grouped into two customer groups: ____________. 

Show answer

Answer

leisure and business 

Show question

Question

What is dynamic pricing?

Show answer

Answer

Dynamic pricing is technique of pricing a product according to current market conditions. 

Show question

Question

What distinguishes dynamic pricing from other pricing strategies?

Show answer

Answer

The use of dynamic pricing, causes the prices of tickets change in real time based on the market data. Enabling a more efficient pricing of tickets. 

Show question

Question

What type of pricing discrimination is used in Southwest Airlines?

Show answer

Answer

Third-degree price discrimination.

Show question

Question

How does third-degree price discrimination divide the market?

Show answer

Answer

It divides the market into inelastic and elastic consumers.

Show question

Question

What are the positive effects of price discrimination in the airline industry?

Show answer

Answer

Some of the positive effects for price discrimination are:

  • Capacity. Charging at different prices enables airlines to make better use of capacity, meaning that they are able to ensure that each flight is optimally used by customers. It prevents waste in the form of insufficient seats being occupied in a flight. This can also have environmental benefits, as airlines would try to fill up flights, selling seats at the best price possible. In other words, it spreads out demand and prevents flight congestion.
  • Revenue. If airlines only charged one high set price, they would loose elastic consumers. Being able to separate consumers based on different conditions allows them to continue to make revenue, even if the price is not at the profit maximising point.
  • Lower prices. Elastic consumers are charged a lower price compared to inelastic consumers. They benefit from the lower price. This lower price increases their consumer surplus and utility.
  • Higher profits. Airlines benefit from inelastic consumers who are willing to pay higher fees. They receive higher profits which they can later use to re-invest back for research that will help them improve their ticket pricing strategy.

Show question

Question

What are the negative effects of price discrimination in the airline industry?

Show answer

Answer

Some of the negative effects for price discrimination are:

  • Loss in consumer surplus. Consumer surplus is extracted from inelastic consumers when airlines charge higher prices. Airlines benefit as they make supernormal profit, but inelastic consumers loose out.
  • Potentially unfair. Price inelastic consumers, such as business travellers may not all be high income earners. This may also be seen as unfair and inequitable if they are charged a higher price. But it can be argued that it is their company who pays for their ticket rather than they themselves.
  • Administration costs. It costs the airlines a lot of money to separate the market and carry out extensive research into dynamic pricing. If this admin costs are too high, airlines could pass it onto consumers through higher prices.

Show question

60%

of the users don't pass the Price Discrimination: Airline Tickets quiz! Will you pass the quiz?

Start Quiz

Discover the right content for your subjects

No need to cheat if you have everything you need to succeed! Packed into one app!

Study Plan

Be perfectly prepared on time with an individual plan.

Quizzes

Test your knowledge with gamified quizzes.

Flashcards

Create and find flashcards in record time.

Notes

Create beautiful notes faster than ever before.

Study Sets

Have all your study materials in one place.

Documents

Upload unlimited documents and save them online.

Study Analytics

Identify your study strength and weaknesses.

Weekly Goals

Set individual study goals and earn points reaching them.

Smart Reminders

Stop procrastinating with our study reminders.

Rewards

Earn points, unlock badges and level up while studying.

Magic Marker

Create flashcards in notes completely automatically.

Smart Formatting

Create the most beautiful study materials using our templates.

Sign up to highlight and take notes. It’s 100% free.