Think elite status, airline reputation or seat comfort matter when travelers pick an airline? A(nother) recent poll puts those ideas to the test and, once again, the answer appears to be a resounding “no” for the majority of respondents. Roughly 50% of travelers indicated unwillingness to pay extra for a preferred airline while three in five were unwilling to pay extra to avoid a middle seat.
But the poll showed 83 percent of Americans put ticket prices among their chief considerations when booking personal travel, outweighing travel perks or an airline’s reputation.
If these numbers are to be believed then the theoretical value of the new Basic Economy offerings – charging $20-40ish more per passenger for benefits like advance seat selection and frequent flyer points – could end up not pulling in as much revenue as airlines hope. Travelers focused only on fare are far less likely to pay the differential.
So how does that reconcile with the positive reports from the “Big 3” US carriers regarding the increased revenue they’re seeing as a result of the new fares?
Read More: Basic Economy isn’t about the LCCs
For one thing, even if half say they won’t pay that means half will. And with an average fare hike around $20 (AA specifically said $23, the others didn’t share but I’ll assume similar numbers) even getting half the passengers to pay is significant.
It is also unclear just how much survey results translate to action when the time comes to buy the ticket. Some travelers seem to hold strong on “never again” promises based on whatever slight they’ve endured at the hands of an airline. Most, however, seem to have short memories, especially if a low fare is involved.
Another key factor may come from the survey sample. The report indicates “a sample of roughly 2,316 adults age 18+ from the United States.” Polling was conducted online, not via telephone. But there is no indication from the reports of how likely or how often any of those surveyed are to purchase plane tickets.
Presumably the 50% of passengers that fly at most once a year are likely to consider fare far more important, and with good reason. For the more frequent customers the value proposition of paying a little extra may prove worthwhile, especially if there are on-board product differentiators at play like extra legroom, in-flight entertainment, or better/cheaper wifi options available. But that’s a big maybe.
Read More: United pulls back on Basic Economy
Read More: Basic Economy, real penalties
The math on paying extra up front only works once travelers know that there is a difference and can figure out quickly and easily what the true total cost of a travel experience is, not just the unbundled fare. Figuring out that part of the sales process continues to be a challenge for the industry, even as some airlines adopt the NDC distribution model that is supposed to ease that process.
In the mean time, price remains key for a whole lot of travelers; the idea of airlines spending more to improve the product in the face of such is a long-shot at best.
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