NB: This is a guest article by Jay Sorensen, president of IdeaWorksCompany.
Confession: when looking for a suitable title for a new report, I deliberately chose “shocking” to attract attention to the topic.
I also added a sub-headline – “the ultimate compliment for the consumer acknowledges their right to choose” – that is difficult to dispute, even in a regulatory environment in which debates rage about ancillary fees.
When big changes occur, there is always a tendency to cling to the past. It would be nice to return to the 1960s when travel was glamorous, huge meal trays were used in economy class, and carriers such as Braniff were doing crazy things with flight attendant fashions.
There were a handful of fares in every market and these were likely set by a government regulator. With the exception of selecting economy or first class, travel was a one-size-fits-all experience.
The “all inclusive” price of travel supported all the glamour, food, and fashion. But these higher fares prevented vast numbers of lower income consumers from enjoying the freedom of travel.
Now, the newfound global access to air travel is threatened by ever-increasing fuel costs.
Thatâ€™s why the magic of a la carte methods arrives at the perfect time. Unbundling allows consumers to choose the level of service that best meets their needs. Of course, this must be delivered in an open and honest manner, and thatâ€™s a lesson still sadly lost on some airlines.
It’s not the right choice for everyone. I don’t recommend every airline pursue the complete array of a la carte opportunities. Any process of change should always begin with a thorough review of a carrier’s brand.
Most airlines think they have already addressed this activity, but in my experience most have not. It’s difficult work to create a paragraph that describes how a brand delivers its product promise to a consumer.
But after this is accomplished, every other task becomes far simpler. It’s true, there are airlines that truly should avoid the a la carte approach (especially in premium cabins) . . . and there are those who don’t do enough.
The worst outcome is to create an ancillary revenue strategy based only upon an immediate financial need. Decisions and actions made during times of desperation almost never provide good long term solutions.
When done right, a la carte almost always provides our best solution to keep travel affordable and accessible â€“ for all. Airlines should do what’s right for their brand; but ignore a la carte at your own financial peril.