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Airline Add-Ons: A Solution

March 11, 2009

Recently I was on a flight (Continental) where a meal service was offered. For free. It was such a surprise, and it immediately improved my opinion of the airline.

I was talking to Nancy about how rare it is to have such a service included with flights nowadays. Everything seems to be a bonus that you can add on for $5. A snack pack, a meal, an alcoholic drink, headsets, pillows, a blanket, etc. Once I step on the plane, all of these things become unnecessary perks that I can do without since I don’t want to spend another penny on the flight.

However, I still want those things. I still want the pillow, the snack pack, the gin and tonic (drinking at 20,000 feet is the best). How can an airline get me to pull out my wallet? Here’s how:

Simple psychology: If someone is spending $300 on something, it’s easy to get them to add another $10 to the total at the point of purchase. That’s a 3% increase–that’s nothing. However, if you wait a few days after they’ve paid the $300, their willingness to add that $10 goes way down because it feels like a brand new expense.

Based on that premise, airlines should sell perks at the point of purchase–when people buy the tickets. Of course, you’d have to offer the add-ons at a slight discount from their price on the plane, because otherwise people will convince themselves to wait until that point and probably not buy them. Offer a prepurchased rum and Coke for $4, the in-flight version for $6. Same for the snack pack.

The information could be printed on your boarding pass. The additional genius of this is that if you decide on the flight that you don’t want your run and Coke, the airline just gained $4 without spending anything. That risk is incurred by the consumer. I know that I would be willing to incur that risk if it were presented up front when I’m charging a large sum of money to my credit card.

Thoughts? Would you pre-pay for airline perks and add-ons?

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. Trevor permalink
    March 12, 2009 12:17 pm

    A few thoughts…

    First of all, I like what you’re thinking about. Good idea. You could take it one step further by offering just a generic $4 drink ticket (for example), so the traveler wouldn’t have to decide on a rum & coke at the point of purchase.

    Secondly, and someone in the airline industry please check me on this, I think airlines used to include the cost of their meal or other amenities (if they were “complimentary”) in the actual cost of the ticket (automatically). The customer never saw that he/she was paying an extra $5 for a meal. When the cost of gas went up dramatically, it caused a subsequent jump in the price of airfare, and airlines were scrambling to find any way to keep fares as low as possible to keep people traveling. They stripped flights down to the bare bones–no longer including the cost of “complimentary” meals, pillows, etc in ticket fares. Thus the evolution of the pay-per-meal flights that we see today. Essentially, they used to have an idea similar to yours–make the cost invisible to the consumer, but “these tough economic times” as they say, have forced a change.

    • March 12, 2009 4:07 pm

      Good point about not being too specific when you place the order–John has a point about using vouchers for that purpose. That would work.

      The thing is, airlines stripped away the perks, but they didn’t decrease the price. I think that was a little sneaky.

  2. March 12, 2009 2:54 pm

    I think there’s another barrier to ordering on a plane, and maybe this is just for women, but I never want to bother with getting my wallet out. My purse is usually down by my feet or under the seat in front of me and if it’s food I’m interested in, I inevitably already have my little plastic cup of Diet Coke that I’m trying to balance on my tray table along with my book and iPod in my cramped coach seat. So, short of starving, I’m not going to bother trying to fish out my purse and wallet to order a $5 snack.

    On the flip side, if given the opportunity to purchase food when purchasing the ticket, I’d probably do it. Good idea!

    • March 12, 2009 4:08 pm

      Great point about the purse–it’s another barrier to entry. I think it’s also discouraging to spend $5 on a snack. But if you combine that with $300 at the point of purchase, it doesn’t seem like that big of a deal.

      I guess the tricky part is if you lose your ticket on your way to your seat…but really, if you can’t hang onto your ticket for the 50 feet between the gate and your seat, that’s on you.

  3. John Aughey permalink
    March 12, 2009 4:02 pm

    Good idea, could be logistically difficult. How do you know the person sitting in the seat is the actual person who pre-bought the perk? If you had vouchers that were part of the ticket, that could help.

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