Notes on words

Writing about words

The last choice

Flying with low-cost airlines makes me uneasy.

It always feels like these airlines are extracting money from me in insidious ways, rather than trying to make the ‘frills’ optional.

I get it. They have to cut a profit and appeal to value-hunters. And in Australia, where it takes longer to cross the country than to reach a whole other nation, profit margins are very thin. They need you to buy every overpriced cheese sandwich you can fit into your mouth. It’s a hard game to play, and for these airlines the booking experience has to be very different to full-service airlines.

That’s the kind of corporate empathy I had when booking some low-cost airline tickets recently.

And then I came across this screen:

“We actively encourage you to select a payment option that doesn’t incur a Payment Fee [sic]” …and yet there’s no way to tell what the fees are for any of these options.

“We actively encourage you to select a payment option that doesn’t incur a Payment Fee [sic]” …and yet there’s no way to tell what the fees are for any of these options.

Here, the supporting text “actively” encouraging you to avoid the payment fee is disingenuous at best. There’s nothing to draw attention to the only payment fee-free option at all. (But ‘payment fee’ is capitalised to show you that it is Somehow Very Important.) And you can’t tell how much any of the options cost.

It’s quite discouraging, really.

This is more surprising because Australian airlines were reprimanded a few years ago for their excessive payment surcharges. They now no longer profit from your payment choice, they can only recoup the transaction costs.

It costs them nothing to point out which of their payment options is fee-free.

Had the copy been useful, by pointing out the only fee-free option, then it would have justified the choice to add the copy in the first place. For instance: “Choose POLi to avoid a payment surcharge” would have been sufficient. As it is, the line they use adds no new information.

Perhaps a more elegant solution would be for the design to work a little harder. This could be as simplistic as a corner device or space for supporting text that said FEE-FREE. It could be more comprehensive by showing the cost of every option and privileging the free option, similar to the way Netflix privileges their most costly plan:

Netflix makes it clear which option they want you to select, but they still offer you choice.

Netflix makes it clear which option they want you to select, but they still offer you choice.


I can’t even use the airline’s fee-free option because it involves giving my banking password to a third-party, which is a whoooole other story. But being able to see the fees incurred, like in this Netflix example, would help me pay without pause. I am one of those annoying users who abandon checkout because I hate the commitment, especially for flights. Little things like this nudge people like me to purchase.

This is a lot of thought for just one page. But it’s the final choice before finalising your flight.

After deciding whether to pay more for luggage, food and selecting your seat this choice should be the easiest. Yet it’s incredibly cumbersome.

A little bit of thought helps end the purchase with minimal pain. And perhaps there’s something to be said for the last impression being a lasting impression?

Celina Siriyos