After my discovery that Hertz customers pay less if they claim to be from the UK, The Guardian reveals a similar discrepancy between prices offered to UK and US customers for the Eurostar cross-Channel rail link. Tthis time UK customers lose out to the Americans. but Eurostar are defending their pricing policies:
The train operator said it was within its rights to charge different amounts. Spokesman Paul Charles said: "You get a difference on prices for training shoes, clothes and other things around the world. Everyone has different prices for different markets. A pair of jeans in Gap will be a different price in New York versus London and we are no different."
Mr Charles added Eurostar had no objection to British customers registering to pay in dollars and pointed out the non-flexible, standard fare started at £29.50 one way. The US fares start at $45, which is under £25.
Of course they are entitled to charge what they want, but his argument doesn't really stand up to close scrutiny - prices for identical products in London, New York or Hong Kong are justified by the variations in rental and labour costs, whereas everyone who buys a Eurostar ticket is travelling on the same train service. However, it is undoubtedly true that this is a common business practice, just one example close to home being Japanese visitors staying in Hong Kong hotels (at least prior to the handover) paying more than other people for the same hotel rooms.
I guess the reality is that few people will bother to compare prices and so will be none the wiser about these pricing strategies. More than that, pricing for rail and airline tickets is very complicated, so you will very likely have passengers sitting next to each other who have paid wildly different amounts depending upon when they booked, whether they want a flexible ticket, special corporate rates and all manner of other variables apart from which country they booked from. As ever, the message is caveat empor.