Fast Lane

Dec 30, 2018

If someone approached you and offered you a choice between two identitical sandwiches, except one cost $5 and the other cost $10, which one would you buy? I am fairly certain that most people would choose the $5 sandwich, because it is a better deal.

Now, imagine you are purchasing tickets for an amusement park. The person at the ticket booth tells you that each ride has a red line and a blue line. The color of the ticket you purchase determines which line you must wait in before each ride. The catch is that the red ticket costs $5 while the blue ticket costs $10. Which ticket would you buy?

At first, one might expect the answer to be the same as the sandwich example. Indeed, if you are the only person at the amusement park, then purchasing the red ticket is the optimal choice because it is a better deal.

However, in real life some people will choose to purchase the blue ticket, even though it is more expensive. In fact, they purchase it because it is more expensive. This is evident in the existence of Fast Lane tickets at amusement parks like Great America.

There is nothing intrinsically different between a Fast Lane ticket and a general admission ticket, except the Fast Lane ticket is more expensive. However, because the Fast Lane tickets cost more, fewer people will purchase them, which means the Fast Lane lines for rides will be shorter. Therefore, people who are willing to spend money to reduce their waiting time will purchase the Fast Lane ticket.

When phrased in this way, the benefit of purchasing a Fast Lane (blue) ticket seems pretty obvious. However, I think this phenomenon deserves some attention - as the sandwich example shows, purchasing the more expensive of two identical options is unexpected behavior!

I think if one hasn't thought much about Fast Lane lines before, it's pretty natural to believe that they have some quality that makes them shorter, which makes them more valuable, thus more expensive. In reality, the fact that they are expensive makes them shorter, thus more valuable.

I wrote this post mainly because I found this phenomenon to be pretty interesting, but there are probably useful conclusions that can be drawn from it as well. One being that an objects price and value are not the same thing. Price often reflects value, but in certain situations, price can also influence value.