Retails airlines are battling their customers. People shopping for flights generally want one thing: the lowest price on airfare. The airline industry doesn’t want that to be the case. They’re making this shopping process more difficult for their customers. For example, some airlines do not make their prices available through websites that aggregate fares, like Expedia and Kayak. Last year, when I searched for the best fares for a visit to California on Kayak, American Airlines was included in the results. This year, the airline wants potential customers to visit its own website to find the fares.
Also, it’s getting more difficult to compare actual fares due to the addition of small fees for everything from a meal to bringing a carry-on bag into the cabin. Due to the complexity, the fees are not fully disclosed on fare aggregation websites when sorting the search results by price for example, so the shopper must perform additional research to make a purchase decision based on price.
Additionally, airlines claim to be unique brands, but the public isn’t seeing it. Most people, when they fly from JFK to LAX for example, feel the experience will be roughly the same regardless of the airline. These companies want to set themselves apart from the others and attract customers, and are trying hard to train customers not to shop on price. I don’t think it’s working. Flights are seen as a commodity where all products are similar enough that the only determining factor is price. Furthermore, the nickel-and-dime practice with fees is not gaining the industry or any one airline more fans. There is little differentiation.
Without the need to publish rates to external databases, American Airlines and any other airline that follows suit would be able to better control prices without reacting to the marketplace. They would be able to offer exclusive deals on the company’s own website only, and have more flexibility to adjust rates. All of this makes it more difficult for shoppers to evaluate prices. If airlines want to be evaluated beyond airfare, they’ll need to offer distinctive services that customers actually want.
Each airline wants loyal customers, and that’s another way of saying they want customers who are willing to pay higher prices in exchange for some sort of value perceived in a brand.
What kind of services would make you loyal to one airline company?
Published or updated February 11, 2011.