The Travel Adviser: $198 round trip to London?

Don't expect flight miracles this Hanukka! The price offered by Thomson Fly is likely to end up almost tripled.

London great 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
London great 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
The Festival of Lights is upon us and I so much want to do my small share to throw some light on the following request received from Gideon and Sophie Levinger. "I've been reading your column in The Jerusalem Post and have a very simple request: We want to take ourselves and our two children to London for Hanukka, for one week from December 2nd or 3rd. We are truly confused by what we're finding and the abundance of ads for Thomson Fly just confuses us more. Please offer your experience." London in early December: a chance to see some shows, wow the kids at Madame Tussaud's, explore the Tower of London, and bemoan how strong the British pound is compared to the US dollar and Israeli shekel. The Levingers are also correct in pointing out that billboards have sprouted like mushrooms after the first rains throughout Israel and England promising very cheap prices. In fact, at $99 each way Thomson Fly appears to easily beat both British Air and El Al, and puts Israir, an Israeli charter that also flies to London, to shame. We know that the Israel Consumer Association demands full disclosure of all taxes and surcharges when it comes to print advertising, but alas, billboards don't seem to fall under that domain. By law, any airline advertising in this paper or any Israeli paper must include all taxes and fees. Honesty requires pointing out that Thomson Fly's $198 round-trip fare has a small asterisk announcing that the fare doesn't include taxes. It also conveniently omits fees for checked bags, reserved seats and even food! WE WILL delve deeper and advise the Levingers the best solution to their request. To make it easy for the mathematically challenged, let's compare one adult seat to London for one week to depart December 2. Thomson Fly during this period wants $463 with all the taxes included; those pesky taxes add up. Kosher food required? Add another $30 each direction. Need to check-in a bag as well? Add another $20 each direction. Want an aisle seat reserved? Add $10 each direction. Our total is $583. Not bad, but a wee bit more than the $198 being advertised along the streets of Israel. No doubt that if it wasn't a holiday period, say middle of February when the brisk winds are blowing across the Thames, the airfare could be less. LET'S CHECK out El AL, an airline I have often bashed for confusing the public. However, it does offer something missing from this particular package: it serves you a kosher meal - not to mention, glatt, or vegetarian, or lactose tolerant - with no extra fee. And silly airline that it is, it permits you to check in up to 20 kilos of luggage without incurring an extra fee. What a concept! El Al also finds it quite convenient to allow the customer to prebook a seat to avoid airport confusion. Again, while not a novel concept, this is one that Thomson Fly has yet to adopt. El Al's price, again for December 2, is $609. This covers everything - taxes, service fees, food, luggage, and reserved seats. One amount, no surprises. British Airways' round-trip fare prices at $579. Similar to El Al, its only drawback is its strange fascination with non-seat selection. Seems BA only wants you to select your seat 24 hours prior to departure, which makes marketing seats for couples and families a bit more difficult as so many people do like to sit next to each other. When Thomson Fly began its marketing campaign in Israel and England, I was quite certain that Israeli airlines would react strongly. Not so much El Al, because comparing a scheduled airline with a charter airline is unfair, but certainly Israir, the charter company that does battle with El Al over many airline routes. Alas, Israir's tepid response to the encroachment of a British charter into its marketplace was anemic. Israir must feel its competition is not a charter airline but the behemoths - BA and El Al. It is charging $549 with all the taxes, not exactly a clarion call to rush out and purchase its services. Keep in mind that when a charter delays or cancels a flight, there is no recourse; you may end up spending hours or even a day trying to wrangle a seat on its next scheduled flight. At least when British Airways or El Al has a delay, they have the ability to fly you on other scheduled airlines with which they have a working relationship, first and foremost each other, as well as the myriad of other European airlines that fly between Tel Aviv and London. ASTUTE READERS will note that I chose a route that had lots of competition. Thomson Fly's other destination - Manchester, England - has no such competition on non-stop flights to and from Israel. To wit, I have seen a large increase of Manchurians and other residents of North West England purchasing tickets as the benefits of flying non-stop outweigh any potential risks that exist when flying charter. To and from Manchester, the savings over other airlines can be hundreds of dollars. In fact, they can be quite substantial when flying these direct flights in comparison to other airlines that only offer connecting flights. My final comment comes in the form of a query to our Ministry of Transportation. What kind of bond was required to permit Thomson Fly to fly to Israel, and is there any type of consumer protection if it suddenly ceases operations? Mark Feldman is the CEO of Ziontours Jerusalem. For questions and comments email him at