Why are airlines so bad at sales?


Nice fare to Amman, Jordan from New York or Boston, but not really what Air France in advertising.

It was not my intention to start the morning with a rant today; I was actually somewhat excited to see a decent fare to Amman, Jordan as that’s been high on my “to visit” list for a while now and $650 return from New York or Boston seems like a pretty good deal to me. But I also like to read the fine print on these sales to make sure I know what the options really are. In this case the part about being valid only April 1-30 caught my eye. Except when I go searching I also see the fare widely available – actually more widely available – in February and March than in April. It is also available in early May if that suits you. Or to Dubai, though I’m seeing far less availability of those fares at the advertised rates, even during the official sale period.

Nice fare to Amman, Jordan from New York or Boston, but not really what Air France in advertising.
Nice fare to Amman, Jordan from New York or Boston, but not really what Air France in advertising.

And, while this is the example at the forefront of my brain this morning, it is far from the only one. Airlines have been offering “sale” fares for years now which are different from reality. Sometimes they’re more expensive and sometimes less expensive. Sometimes for different dates and sometimes not really available at all. And, of course, my favorite, when the sale is announced and the fare goes UP from what it was previously for the same travel dates. Because that’s really not a sale.

I get that airfare is complicated, with many moving parts and constantly shifting inventory, especially for network carriers where the same segment can be part of so many different itineraries. There’s a combination of science and black magic when it comes to revenue management. And I’m mostly okay with that. But why, oh why, can RM and marketing never seem to coordinate what a sale is and properly figure out the correct way to tell potential customers?

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

2 Comments

  1. American airlines used to have a few great fares at the bottom of their main page, and I never understood how they got there. First, they could only have appealed to a minuscule audience, and second, they were always wildly expensive: Manhattan, KS-Akron for $650! Brownsville to Shreveport $520! Were they autogenerated or did someone really put those there on purpose?

  2. Why is a government blessed oligopoly bad at sales? Because they can be.
    But to your point, agree on the fine print for their “sales”. It’s frustrating.

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