Bespoke airfares ... frequent flyer benefits? Photo: Michel OSullivan
Airlines are about to start testing a new ticket initiative meant to compete with airfare websites, according to USA Today. If all goes well, it could be adopted by 2016.
Basically the initiative involves asking for personal information, including frequent flier membership, travel history, and use of credit card, to cook up a personalised ticket. This would enable them to offer discounts to frequent fliers or bundle charges such as meals, extra legroom or expedited boarding.
Is this good for consumers? Hard to say yet.
Some consumers will be put off if they feel their information is being used against them to charge higher prices, said Brett Snyder of CrankyFlier.com, which tracks the airline industry: "It won't go over well."
However, "travellers should be excited if the airlines use [the plan] well," he said, like if they offer a bag fee or not based on their status. "If the airlines are concerned about public perception, then there should be a standard widely available published rate as there is today, but as people log in, it should give the opportunity to bring the cost down."
Speaking of status, "having airline elite status or an airline co-branded credit card is even more important than ever," said The Flight Deal, a daily deals site. With the move toward an à la carte pricing model, it's the only way consumers can dodge fees and be the first to nab discounts.
The pricing plan could also make life harder for agents if they can't access the same discounts as airlines. "In theory, the airlines want travel agents to have access to this," said Snyder, who runs a concierge service of his own, "but the third party intermediaries that airlines use to make reservations stand in the way of that becoming a reality." As a result, people might turn to booking experts if airline pricing becomes more complex and they'll jack up their prices.
Comparison sites might try to show the differentiated prices to users, if the airlines allow it. "If the opportunity is out there, it might force these sites to push for a better customer experience," said Snyder. "They could go with an alternate strategy of trying to scold the airlines, and from past experience, that wouldn't be a surprise. But they always end up resolving their issues in the end because both sides need other — for now."