Tripologist: how can Qantas justify its high surcharges?

The good life ... a barge in France.
The good life ... a barge in France. Photo: Getty Images

Fare's free but flying still costs

Having just booked two Qantas frequent flyer economy tickets, I am at a loss to understand the high surcharges — Sydney to London was $372.07 in September 2012 and a return ticket, London to Sydney, was $459.30 in October 2012. Both planes are QF flights tracking the same route and the same airports, stopping at Singapore en route. How does Qantas justify these high surcharges and why are they different? These charges make a mockery of the frequent flyer program and any benefit gained from membership is very questionable.

- N. Moylan, Cromer Heights.

Surcharges on air travel have crept into ticket prices over the past few years and the only way they go is up. Surcharges include a basket of miscellaneous charges the airline pays for every passenger, including airport charges and the passenger duty on departing air travellers. For passengers leaving Britain for Singapore, that Air Passenger Duty (APD) is a whopping £85 ($134) or a truly scandalous £170 ($268), depending on whether the seat pitch in your class of travel is greater than 1.016 metres - I kid you not! This APD probably explains the higher surcharges on your London-Sydney ticket. Some airlines also impose surcharges for check-in baggage, meals, seat selection and paying for your ticket with a credit card.

And then there's the biggie - the fuel surcharge.

When you book an airline ticket using frequent flyer points, even though the ticket might be free you will still pay the surcharges. This is not confined to Qantas. All airlines do the same thing but passing on the surcharges is not unreasonable. Airlines operate on tight margins and competition keeps prices pared to the bone. The only way an airline could absorb surcharges and give frequent flyers a free ride would be to raise ticket prices. Nobody wants that.

Barging through France

We are looking at a barge canal trip through France next year for our 30th wedding anniversary. I love France, hubby loves boats, we both love food and wine. Two other couples are keen, so we would look at self-drive barges (three men who are all old salts). We've seen limited sites for boat hiring and there are next to no brochures. Do you know of any companies or websites catering for this style of holiday?

- A. McKnight, Carlingford.

Barge holidays are big in France and there are several operators who can fit you out. A good place to start is Locaboat Holidays (locaboat.com), which offers a choice of self-drive boats along some of the most popular canal routes. Click on the France map to find some useful overviews that will help you locate your ideal backdrop. Cruise France (www.cruisefrance.com) and Boats in France (boats-in-france.com) offer a similar service.

Don't be too ambitious and remember, there are lots of locks along the way. Plan to motor for a maximum of three to four hours a day and cover a maximum of 25 kilometres. You do not need to travel far to experience a complete change of scenery. Food and wine are two of the joys of barging in France.

Hire bikes and you'll multiply your opportunities for sightseeing and wine tasting. Don't forget to tip the lock-keeper a couple of euros.

Tailor your own British tour

I am planning a trip to the UK next year and am struggling to find the right travel agent. Most just want to book a flight and a standard tour. The problem is I like to do many different things (cultural, history, nature, the outdoors, animals, good food, fashion and sport) and I am not sure where to start. Would appreciate any recommendations or tips.

- K. McLeod, Essendon, Victoria.

In your case, an off-the shelf tour - which is what most travel agents sell most of the time - is not going to fit.

What you want is an itinerary tailored to your personal requirements and while there are experts such as Butterfield & Robinson (www.butterfield.com) and also Susie Worthy (www.noteworthyevents.com) who specialise in just that, you'll pay heaps for their services.

The alternative is to construct your own and working out your own itinerary requires you to research your destination, which is key to wringing the maximum enjoyment you can out of a place. Guidebooks will help but your primary resource is going to be the internet.

The British travel section of The Guardian newspaper (guardian.co.uk/travel), Conde Nast Traveller (cntraveller.com), Wallpaper (wallpaper.com), Gridskipper (gridskipper.com) and Fabsearch (fabsearch.com) will all help you put your feet in the right direction and come up with an itinerary that matches your needs.

 

Cable-car views of South Korean scenic highlight

In March/April next year, my husband and I are travelling to Korea and we are interested in seeing Seoraksan National Park — we believe it has spectacular scenery. However, it appears most people go there for trekking and that's not our thing on this trip. Are you able to find details of overnight tours from Seoul, or even a day tour we could join once we made our own way to Seoraksan? We have nothing planned for the south-west corner of the country — can you suggest places of interest?

K. Bourne, Baulkham Hills.

Seoraksan, pictured, does have spectacular scenery, particularly in spring, when the azaleas are in flower. If you want to experience the best the park offers, you need to walk. There is, however, a one-day tour from Seoul that does not involve walking. The Seorak Mountain Tour from Sally Tour (seoulcitytourinkorea.com) makes use of a cable car to hoist you to Kwengeum fortress from where you can enjoy spectacular views. The main attraction of Korea's south-west is its dramatic coastal scenery, especially the 1700 islands that make up the Dadohae Haesang Marine National Park.

Scenic Hongdo and craggy Heuksando are the most popular destinations, both reached from the coastal town of Mokpo. These islands are especially popular with Koreans during the hot summer months.

Frommer's (frommers.com) travel guide to South Korea is an excellent resource with plenty of information to help plan your journey.

Cable-car views of South Korean scenic highlight

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