Why One Cent Flights Will Cost You More Than One Cent

One Cent Flights officially launched itself in Australia last week, promising "cheap flights to your dream destination". You can potentially score a bargain flight through the service, but the odds aren't good and it will cost you far more than one cent to do so. Here's why.

One Cent Flights uses a "bidding" model. Flight auctions are listed on the site between a pair of destinations, but without a specific flight or airline attached. Each has an initial price of 1 cent. Every time anyone makes a bid, the price goes up by one cent. When the auction ends, whoever has the final bid gets the 'ticket', and can then book actual flights (with all taxes and basic luggage) included through a nominated travel agent. Recent deals listed on the site include a Sydney-Adelaide return for $2.30 and a Melbourne-Perth return for $6.20. But — and it's worth stressing this — that isn't the actual price you've paid.

When you sign up, you get five bid credits, and you can get more by referring other users. But the main way to get bid credits is to buy them. A bundle of 10 credits costs $10; 20 cost $18; 50 cost $40; 100 cost $70; 200 cost $120.

With that in mind, let's look at that $6.20 Melbourne-Perth price again. If every one of those bids represented a paid-for credit, One Cent Flights has made $620. It's possible to get a return flight to Perth for $450, so there would be quite a large potential profit there. The profit could be much lower or even non-existent — many people will use free credits and serious bidders might have bought the $120 bundle — but in the long run, a flight listed as $10 in One Cent Flights "money" might still be a profitable enterprise.

Note also that while the auctions have an 'end time' specified, the countdown timer resets back to 10 seconds if a bid is made within that time frame. In other words, there's likely to be a lot of last-minute bidding taking place, which means you could spend a lot of money fairly quickly.

As with any deal, it also pays to check the terms and conditions carefully. For instance, all the flights currently listed on the site are blacked out for a month from December 15 — no Christmas discounts here. You have to book at least two weeks in advance.

Ultimately, I would rather put $120 into my travel fund and use that to buy a specific ticket (following our tips on how to score cheap flights). Even if you take that view, there's no harm in signing up and using the free credits on offer, though you'll need to hang around the site right near closing time to have any chance of actually winning. Just remember: the price you see on screen isn't what you've actually paid.

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