What do travelers really want this year?

To know what travelers want in 2015, just listen to what they said in 2014.

They punished airlines with a 69 out of 100 on the authoritative American Customer Satisfaction Index. That’s a “D+” letter grade – yet it’s the highest they’ve managed to score since the index started in 1995. Hotels? A 75, only a “C.” Online travel agencies ranked slightly better with a 77.

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Yes, everyone likes to complain about travel. But it doesn’t have to stay that way.

Airlines, car rental companies and hotels claim they can divine our future travel desires with data. But crunching numbers isn’t the same thing as listening to customers. Curiously, travelers continue to say the same thing: They want a quality service at a fair price. And there are signs some companies are finally paying attention.

Could it turn into a trend in 2015? Maybe.

Travel companies are studying your spending patterns to predict what you want, and what you’re willing to pay for. “Personalized marketing and targeted product design are extremely powerful opportunities,” a survey by the Future Foundation and the World Travel & Tourism Council concluded. Indeed, “big data” are the buzz at every travel industry conference, as if they are the solution to all our problems.

Yet big data can’t begin to paint a portrait of our misery. And that misery boils over into outrage when we overlay the travel industry’s questionable customer service record with its recent profits. Vast sectors of the travel industry are wrapping up their best year in memory. Yet customers feel violated. Nowhere is that raw anger more visible than among airline passengers.

“Fees for checked luggage, onboard meals and legroom, are just signals that the traveler is a target for the airlines’ bottom line,” says Margaret King, director of the Center for Cultural Studies & Analysis, and a frequent airline passenger. “Travelers are the perfect captive audience. Instead of feeling cared for, fliers feel jerked around and exploited.”

The airline industry’s response – indeed, the entire travel industry’s response – is to blame us. You asked for low prices, so we gave you rock-bottom fares, hotel rates and “free” product, as long as you participate in our confusing loyalty programs. Why are you complaining?

But that’s disingenuous. Customers have always wanted low prices. Technology just helped travelers find them. It is perhaps a little ironic that the travel industry is trying to use technology to neutralize the customer advantage, predicting how much we’re likely to spend while at the same time concealing the real cost of its product to make comparison-shopping harder.

Travelers don’t want to be blamed, and they don’t want to be gamed. They want to be treated like human beings.

“I’d like a minimal amount of customer service,” says Barry Maher, a frequent traveler and author of the book Filling the Glass: The Skeptic’s Guide to Positive Thinking in Business.”I’d like them to actually provide it, rather than just talk about it. I’d like them to actually consider how their next greedy decision to cut leg room or remove padding from ever more uncomfortable seats might impact the people who provide the revenue they’re so focused on.”

There’s some evidence that the industry’s worst performers know they’ve crossed an important line. Last month, American Airlines reversed a decision to add more seats to its regional jets. The carrier had expected to make “tens of millions of dollars” by increasing the number of seats from 76 to 81 on the smaller planes. Although the reversal wasn’t for customer-service reasons, but to placate its pilots during a contract negotiation, there’s no doubt passengers will benefit.

Oddly, one of the most hopeful signs is the industry’s lack of action. For example, Southwest Airlines still doesn’t charge for the first checked bag. Several hotel chains, some of them relatively affordable, continue to include Wi-Fi and breakfast in the cost of their rooms instead of charging extra for everything.

The solution to all this is actually pretty easy. Enough with mining vast amounts of data from so-called “loyalty” programs and other personal information collected without your explicit consent. Instead, why not listen to your customers?

Better yet, why not walk a mile in your customers’ shoes? Sit in economy class. Sleep in the small rooms and eat the day-old muffins for breakfast. Drive the little cars and pay the high fees and surcharges that come with it. No algorithm can help an executive understand what the customer wants more than a day spent consuming their own product.

“It’s time for the travel industry to become more customer-focused,” customer service expert Shep Hyken says.

So true. And what a perfect New Year’s resolution.

What do travelers want more in 2015?

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How to get better service in 2015

Book from companies that still care. By throwing your support behind a company like Southwest Airlines or Marriott, which are known for having reasonable fees and better service, you can cast a vote for treating customers well.

Shun companies with poor service ratings. According to the ACSI survey, the list includes United Airlines (60), American Airlines (66) Wyndham (72) and Best Western (74).

Tell a friend. Word of mouth reviews have more power than ever to reward companies that get it — and to put the bad ones out of business. Spread your opinions offline and online if you want service to improve. And fill out those customer surveys. People do read them.

129 thoughts on “What do travelers really want this year?

  1. It’s actually quite simple. Travelers want many things. Travelers probably want all the things that the article articulated. And alas, it’s as irrelevant as it is fanciful. The only real question is what do travelers want that they are willing to pay for. Everything else is unicorns and rainbows.

    Unless we are willing to pay for those items that we want, why should a business do anything except tell us to exit stage left?

    1. Yes, and it would be more profitable if car manufacturers offered vehicles without wheels or seatbelts. If people want to pay for them, then they could do that, right? But government regulators and common sense doesn’t allow that kind of calloused, unfettered free market approach to selling vehicles. So why not for the rest of travel? At what point do the airline seats become too small, the car rental products too “a la carte” for them to be reasonable? Maybe that’s the real question we should be asking.

      1. I have to agree with both of you. When you travel why are you really buying?

        Transportation from point A to point B? Comfortable temperatures? Seats where a 5’11” 150 lb persons knees and elbows aren’t squished? The ability to change your mind and leave when sitting on the Tarmac for 90 mins?

        But from Chris’s prospective we don’t want to be transported like cattle. But as Carver points out we have to be willing to pay for certain things beyond an acceptable standard.

        I hate government regulation in most situations, but in the airline industry in perticular it appears appropriate to set the minimum bar. Only because once your on that plane, your stuck, you cannot just “get off” the flight in the middle. You have to have a reasonable minimum level of service (what that is, is the question).

      2. The obvious answer presents itself and has been stated repeatedly. Safety is, and should be, regulated by the government. Few will dispute that.

        Comfort on the other hand is a matter of personal preference, or do we not trust people to make that decision for themselves?

        1. The line between the two is not always clear. DOT regulates the size of animal cages in the cargo hold and mandates that they have adequate water. Is that a comfort issue or a safety issue? Likewise, can you safely evacuate a plane that only has 28 inches of seat pitch in economy class. Yes, if the passengers are all children. Not if they’re in the NBA.

          1. 1. Animals cannot make choices and the owners are likely to be ignorant of the conditions in the cargo hold thus the analogy fails as their is no informed choice presented here.

            2. If the DOT set 28″ as the minimum seat pitch for safety then I will assume that’s the smallest seat pitch that is safe and that a plane can be evacuated appropriately. If that is not true please provide the reference.

          2. For a minute there, I thought you were describing economy class passengers who just couldn’t help themselves and were purchasing a cheap ticket out of instinct. But don’t they deserve protection when they are making uninformed choices? After all, the government protects us from lesser evils — why not also from the predatory acts of avaricious airlines?

          3. The protection is through disclosure. Disclose what the customer is buying.

            But we shouldn’t do the big brother thing and say, “hey, you aren’t smart enough to make a decision about your own comfort so we’ll do it for you”

            That’s what this comes down to in a nutshell. Are passengers smart enough to make an informed choice about their comfort. I say we are.

          4. The protection is through disclosure. Disclose what the customer is buying.

            Much disclosure is buried or incomprehensible, and often not even binding. You don’t have a right to see the fare rules before you purchase online. Whatever seat pitch is listed at time of purchase is not guaranteed.

            Each carrier wants their flight to appear at the top of your search results. Informed choice is not their priority.

            Are passengers smart enough to make an informed choice about their comfort. I say we are.

            When other airlines complained about American Airlines’ control of Sabre, and the order in which it displayed search results, they claimed (with supporting data) that even *travel agents* were unduly influenced by which flight was arbitrarily displayed higher up in the search results….

          5. That’s a separate issue. What constitutes adequate disclosure is an entirely different subject, one worth discussing in detail.

          6. To the extent people are citing consumer transaction data in this discussion to interpret what consumers want, then it’s also inextricably linked to this discussion as well…

          7. Well, if we must…

            The big 800lb gorilla is the seat pitch. That’s the one we’ve been talking about. Perhaps the first time you fly an airline such as Spirit you were ignorant. But the second time and onward you are fully aware of what you are purchasing.

          8. Everyone has slightly different priorities. As someone who is a tad below average-sized, I don’t see seat-pitch as the single issue that dwarfs all others. Perhaps my large and tall friends would feel otherwise.

            I agree that repeat Spirit passengers know about the seat pitch. But they can fly many times before they are aware of other tradeoffs. Like their risk of getting stranded for many hours or days and left on their own to complete their travel….

          9. Seat pitch is the issue that has been bandied about here more than any other with regards to economy comfort so I am guessing it’s generally the most prevailing issue, assuming that the readership here represents a cross-section of sizes.

            But we agree on the general issue is that customers should receive adequate disclosure so that they can make an informed decision with regards to their purchases. The reason why I’m sidestepping what adequate disclosure means because I think that deserves an entire column and should not sidetrack the issues presented here

          10. I’d say they are, to a point.
            There should be minimum standards of comfort and space, because otherwise, the minute an airline cuts space to get a lower fare, the other airlines do it, and we end up with a never ending downward spiral.

            By setting some minimum standards, it forces airlines to make savings based upon realistic cost savings and not continually making things more unbearable.

            There are regulations on many things in various industries to prevent people from economizing where they shouldn’t. For example, there are health standards for restaurants, content requirements to dictate whether you can call something “juice” or a drink. Facilities such as bars and restaurants are only allowed to have in so many people due to fire regulations. Speed limits on roadways.

            The reason that we have laws is that everyone’s judgement isn’t the same, and some people’s judgement is simply not sound. We see examples of this in the airline industry.

          11. You almost always have a choice with domestic travel. I’ve heard the Megabus is quite comfortable. And, it has “free” WiFi.

          1. I’m curious to know whether it’s even possible to complain to the DOT about seat size. It’s not as easily quantifiable as a lost bag or canceled flight, it’s not as easy to attach a value to it, and you can’t complain that you paid for 32″ of seat pitch but were only given 31″, unless your class of service was changed. Categorizing official complaints to a government entity and then extrapolating from it what’s important to customers isn’t really a fair way to gauge that.

        2. The Average Stage Length of a US Domestic Flight is less than 700 miles. New York to Chicago is 725 miles and the flight is about 2.5 hours. Most Americans can endure a 31″ seat pitch for 2 and a half hour in my opinion. That is why this is not a BROAD consumer issue.

          Now if that 2.5 hour flight is late, then the average consumer will complain because time is money. My babysitter cost is more important than my seat pitch.

      3. An automobile without wheels is not transportation. An airline ticket without “free” checked bags is transportation.

        The point where fees are not reasonable is the point where the product does not fulfill it goal without them.

          1. If you are going to count bags as separate items, then they should absolutely have their own separate ticket.

            If you had already had your coffee this morning, you might have mentioned a charge for carry-on luggage. But then that would show the market at work. How long did it take airlines to adopt checked-bag fees after the first one did it? How long has it been since the first airline adopted carry-on bag fees?

          2. Did someone say “coffee”? You know, that’s my main complaint about airline service. The coffee is awful, even the ones that allegedly have Starbucks. I think the government should require espresso makers on every plane.

          3. The biggest problem with making coffee and tea in a plane is that the water boils at well less than 212 Fahrenheit at altitude, and in fact doesn’t even get nearly to the correct temperature for making coffee. So you’ll have to have your caffeine cold like a lot of us.

          4. I’m not a scientist, but I believe that the change in elevation would only affect boiling temperatures if the cabin was NOT pressurized.

          5. Although cabins are pressurised there is still an increase in cabin altitude to somewhere around 8,000ft which affects the boiling point of water. The higher the cabin altitude the less demands on the pressurisation system with consequent fuel saving. Additionally fuselages have to be built more strongly to withstand a higher pressure differential to achieve a lower cabin pressure, which increases purchase price and fuel consumption – it’s that wicked conflict between cost and comfort again.

          6. Continental had espresso makers on all of their 767 and 777 planes (except those going to Hawaii). It was one of the first things that disappeared when UA took over.

            And the coffee still tasted bad. 🙁

            It is the lack of a high enough boiling point for the water and the water tanks on commercial aircraft give the water a metallic taste that make the resulting coffee taste off.

            The instant decaf UA now serves actually tastes fairly good.

    2. The current race to the bottom with airlines is leaving even those who are willing to pay a bit more, but can’t afford business class, with very little choice. Is it realistic to “pay more” when the next step up is anywhere from 50% to double what cattle class costs? That may be realistic for, say, a $200 ticket. What about a $1200 one?

      I would like choices between “treated like cattle” and “treated like royalty for tons of money and/or points”. Right now, the airline industry is going towards those two extremes. And FAR too many travel writers are clueless because it’s been years since they were a non-elite. Being a passenger if you’re an elite isn’t too bad. If you’re not? Sucks to be you.

      1. Unfortunately, forcing better from the airlines would be at the expense of the folks who would prefer cheaper even if it meant crappier. What would be the justification for the government catering to you over them?

          1. Opponents of any legislation always says prices will go up. So that comparison is meaningless. Let’s just go with basic math

            If a plane generally flies at or near capacity, more seat pitch = fewer passengers. Fewer passengers = less revenue. Thus the airline will try to find another way to replace the loss revenue. Either direct price increases or indirect price increases such as baggage fees. Pick your poison.

        1. See, if an airline really does want to treat people like cattle – or prisoners – in exchange for cheap fares? More power to them. I would rather flap my arms like Icarus than fly them, but hey, people have priorities.

          I’m not quite a believer in government regulations as Christopher is. What I do think is that airlines are behaving like a cartel – or worse – a monopoly, and should be treated accordingly. Either break them up, or if they refuse – THEN regulate them like utilities. There are legal remedies for that. Competition is lacking in the aviation sector, and if there WAS real competition, we wouldn’t be in this mess.

          1. The same way OPEC does: by collusion. Do I believe the airlines *actively* fix prices? No, but it’s clear that tacit collusion is already in effect. See how quickly fees and fares change when one airline changes – and others match.

            They do it because they can, and because this is a field with no real competition. Anti-trust and others laws banning anti-competitive practices exist for this very reason.

          2. If I agreed with your conclusion then I would be 100% on your side. Cartels should have no place in the American Market. Unfortunately, the effect you’re describing is due more to commoditization than collusion. The same phenomenon was observed when there were more airlines.

          3. Sure they do. The Joint Venture of dominant carriers across the Atlantic is IMMUNIZED by the DOJ. Take a look at their pricing and rules — xerox!

          4. Happy new year, CCF! May your new year be one of profitable billing!

            I think what happened is that during the “regulation” days, the fares were higher (due to regulation) and this caused a large segment of the flying public to be business class travelers flying on economy. Essentially, business class travelers subsidized the (more expensive of the time) economy class tickets.

            For a brief golden era of flying until Y2K, fares were low and service/comfort standards were high. Airlines didn’t want to lose their (still) profitable last-minute business economy class flyers and in some ways, the market was restricted in it’s own way. Low fare carriers such as Southwest helped to keep fares low overall while offering a different service package (non-assigned seating, for example.)

            Ironically, the loyalty programs helped to kill the business subsidized economy class. Business class flyers were identified by the airlines via their flying habits and segregated into the larger cabin. In the old days, the first class cabin was for the big, big spenders. As business class flyers celebrated their new status in between economy and first, the airlines finally found a way truly build, and bill, a steerage class. No longer did they need to worry about losing their business flyers who could upgrade their way out of the steerage cabin. Business class was the secret death knell of the comfort economy cabin whether the CEO’s of the time intended it to be or not.

            Perhaps we should view all of this as an evolution. As airlines start to become profitable again, perhaps more of them will survive and even new players enter the market (such as foreign airlines flying on American soil) and help to raise standards. When airlines were going bust left and right and consolidating, that helped to drive service levels down.

          5. They are more of an oligopoly than a cartel, but now we are splitting hairs.

            Small group of sellers that dominate the marketplace, large barriers to enter the market place, but competition in some oligopolies can be fierce and can drive prices lower (almost what happens with ticket prices, one has a sale so does the other, cell phone providers are a perfect example).

            Cartels drive prices higer to increase profits for each member, but cartels are forms of oligopolies.

            Phew, thank you professor Patrabielium Neelakantan!!!

          6. I agree that they act like oligopolies. The funky fare rules are indicative of that. I merely suggest that the commoditization of coach travel is far more salient. Consider premium classes. Same number of airlines, but they compete fiercely for those bucks and generally try to outdo each other to snag those customers.

      2. How many cabins do you think an aircraft can have. We already have FC, BC, PE and EC. In EC they have mapped the seats as Plus, Reserved for Elites, Blocked, etc. In reality the Plus and Reserved for Elites is so called decent seats in coach (unless you are in Southwest*, JetBlue or VirginAmerica. *no assigned seating).
        So unless you are an elite or willing to pay for Plus seating, then you are just simply out of luck. Yes US Airlines suck and you have no choice but to fly them domestically. Unfortunately most domestic travel suck in other countries, too. So pay up or hush.

      3. Is this not enough for people yet?

        Source: skift. com/2013/09/03/breaking-down-u-s-domestic-airlines-by-coach-seat-size-and-fees/

    3. The only real question is what do travelers want that they are willing to pay for.

      It’s not enough that travelers are willing to pay for it. If many travelers are not savvy enough to assess and compare different features and policies that are not prominently disclosed, then the bare bones product could easily be more profitable, even if informed travelers are willing to pay more for a better product.

      1. If customers are ignorant en masse (say a financial transaction) then I would agree. But, purchasing an airline ticket is a fairly simple transaction. It doesn’t require any specialized knowledge to understand that if cheap is the goal, you fly Spirit. If comfort is the key you get on a more expensive carrier or buy a more premium product.

        1. Calling customers ignorant is one way to spin it. The same customer who may be well-informed today can easily become the “ignorant” customer who gets preyed upon tomorrow.

          It’s carriers like Spirit which often institute new, unorthodox and punitive fees and policies — for example, a $100/each-way fee if a gate agent decides that your personal under-the-seat item doesn’t meet their precise requirements — that have turned purchasing an airline ticket into a far more complex transaction than it used it to be.

          1. A few thoughts

            1. I am not saying customers are ignorant. I am saying quite the opposite. Buying an airline ticket is a particularly simple task, I began buying mine as a high school sophomore. The fee that you quoted hardly makes this a complex transaction as it took you all of 22 words to explain the fee.

            2. The only real issue is whether or not an airline has made an adequate disclosure sufficient to inform passengers.

          2. There are many reasons why this seemingly simple task is in fact not so simple, and Chris writes about such cases all the time.

            Case in point: the passenger who was hit by Spirit’s $100 fee for a “tote bag”.


            Even the travel agents who comment here couldn’t agree on how Spirit’s policy (which everyone believed was well disclosed) applies to a tote bag. If even professional travel buyers can’t figure it out, how to you expect amateur travelers to?

    1. According to the various pundits that’s not true. Of course, to come up with this position we must ignore what passengers have stated with our wallets and ignore data, etc.

        1. Your polls are not meant as scientific polls for innumerable reasons. Accordingly, no conclusions can be drawn.

          1. I suspect you are correct. My fundamental problem with the analysis is that it fails to accept that there are two parties to a transaction. How does the proposed action affect both parties. It will have a drop in revenue to the airlines. What will they do? They will find some other way to recover that lost revenue…coin operated bathroom anyone?

          2. The UK regulates seat pitch. And EU 261 applies, which presumably affects UK airfares too. Yet somehow UK consumers can still patronize bargain carriers and they can still purchase extraordinarily low fares.

            I think most passengers would happily pay microscopically higher fares for such minimum standards.

            But we have a collective-action problem. Even if informed passengers would pay $1 or whatever more for $1 worth of higher standards, carriers won’t offer that knowing that either their flight will show up lower on flight search engines and/or it will come out of their bottom line but not their competitors.

          3. You mean like Ryanair? The airline that makes Spirit look luxurious?

            The second point is unlikely. Commodity behavior suggests otherwise. If you don’t see a difference between A and B, there is no delta small enough that would be an incentive to purchase the more expensive product.

            As to point three. Of course they would. If there were sufficient people who would pay more then carriers would offer it. Oh yes, they do.It’s called economy plus, main cabin select, etc.

            And anecdotally, that’s the most empty cabin. I see basic coach filled. I see first filled. But the middle cabin seems to be the last cabin filled. Anecdotally.

          4. You mean like Ryanair? The airline that makes Spirit look luxurious?

            Yes, I do mean like Ryanair, which has 2″ more seat pitch (per seatguru.Com) than Spirit, to comply with UK regulations.

            What you’re missing is that option A and option B aren’t presented side-by-side. Many people won’t notice option B (or more typically, they won’t notice that option A charges a separate fee for something included in option B) when option B is pushed way down the search results.

          5. No, not at all. That’s the disclosure that I’ve been repeatedly harping on clearly to no avail. All of that can be handled by legislation mandating what information must be presented so consumers can make an informed decision.

            Once we understand this relatively simply point, we can then determine what is the best way to inform consumers.

            I also challenge the notion that Option A and Option B aren’t presented equally. Consider. Suppose Carrier A charges for luggage and carrier B doesn’t. Carrier B’s prices may be overall cheaper but its placement will be lower. How stupid would Carrier B to allow that to continue. The result being that you get the apples to apples comparison, unless you are viewing one of the outliers such as Spirit.

            But even then, most of the funky Spirit charges (eg. arriving without a boarding pass) can be avoided with knowledge (the aforementioned disclosures) and planning

          6. You inadvertently stumbled on the problem. The underlying reservation systems were designed before unbundling and don’t support the apples-to-apples comparison that Carrier B would like to see. And Carrier B doesn’t have the power to change that. So Carrier B is pressured to copy Carrier A, even if option their option B is closer to what most customers want.

      1. Who of these pundits actually SELL airline tickets to the general public?
        You want the truth – talk to the seller and buyer.

          1. Remove the ultra-elite frequent fliers from the list. They are the outliers. But really in the USA you get what you pay for and who you vote for. It sucks because we allowed it to suck.

          2. Like what? By the end of 2015 or by 2016 many of these so-called elites won’t be, because of the qualifying dollar requirements.
            They will become your new found friends. Why the heck do you think Boarding Area welcomed you? ha ha.

          3. It is not that difficult to meet the spending goals most airlines set to get awarded the top tier elite levels. I made the spending goal for their 1K level but only got enough miles to reach Platinum.

            The only thing the spending goal prevents is people who get the fat-finger fares and rack up huge number of miles with minimal expense from entering the higher levels of elite membership.

          4. Also, I’ll be very delighted to get a call that is not – Hey Tony, what is the cheapest fare to XXX on mm/dd/yy? 🙂

          5. Hardly. TonyA’s point is well made. The people who are best qualified to discuss the needs and wants of the parties are the parties themselves. When the parties agree on a transaction, big brother cannot routinely claim superior knowledge of the needs and wants than the parties themselves.

  2. Passengers may SAY they want better service, but actions speak louder than words, and, on average, their actions (and wallets) say they want lower prices. How else could Spirit score so low on these surveys, yet be the most profitable airline in the country?

    1. Passengers want both.

      If only price mattered, then how did JetBlue increase market share from 3.9% to above 5.1% over the same span that Spirit increases market share from 1% to 2.1%? How did Southwest become the largest airline by passenger volume?

      Why does Spirit have more than triple the rate of passenger complaints of any other airline, year after year? According to their own spokesperson, it’s because many of their customers don’t understand the tradeoffs they are making in exchange for a lower purchase price.

      1. If Jet blue went from 3.9% to 5.1%, it increased its market share by 31%. If Spirit went from 1% to 2.1% it increased its market share by 110% or over three times the rate of Southwest.

        Also, the complaint rate is 9.4 per 100,000. Most of its passengers are OK.

        1. You expect larger companies to have the same growth rate as smaller companies?

          Spirit’s growth rate is impressive. Yet JetBlue acquired more new passengers over the same span. That’s not what one would expect if customers cared only about price.

          And the number of formal complaints to the DOT reflect only a fraction of an airline’s unhappy passengers. Spirit’s complaint rate stands out from all the other carriers.

          1. Percentages allow you to compare apples with apples. The
            concept is known as normalization. It’s why in your original post you used percentage increase rather than number of new passengers as well as complaint rate rather than number of complaints. The static numbers, say number of complaints, would lack context in the same way, number of new passengers lacks context.

          2. By your reasoning, a company that grew 500+% (see: Sun Air Express ) would be even more impressive than Spirit Airlines.

            And since Sun Air Express doesn’t charge for checked bags, clearly that demonstrates that customers want, and are willing to pay for, ‘free’ checked bags, right?

            Who cares that Sun Air Express merely expanded it’s market share from about .0002% to about .001%. Apples-to-apples, it’s growth tells us more about what passengers want than Spirit, right?

          3. I’m guessing you don’t have much experience in college level statistics otherwise you would have passed on using that as an example.

            One issue with using someone like Sun Air Express which has 11 planes is that it doesn’t transport enough passengers to draw any statistically valid whereas Spirit has 65 planes with 100 on order

            Further, as it doesn’t operate domestically within the United States, the domain of its passengers base is different.

            It reminds me of those unsophisticated comparisons made between the US and Japan in the 1980’s and 1990s which ultimately were shown lack rigor in the analysis. Basic rule of analysis. Make sure you have apples to apples to compare.

          4. The Sun Air Express I referred to operates domestically within the United States. Exclusively.


            And I cited that example merely to demonstrate the problem with your insistence that we compare growth rates between companies of very different sizes.

            Jet Blue has more planes flying at this moment (221) than Spirit expects to have years from now when all it’s orders are filled.

            To the extent Spirit has satisfied customers who don’t regret their purchases, that represents a market segment that buys into their value proposition. Ditto for Jet Blue, Sun Air Express and any other airline. You can’t assume from growth rates that Spirit’s market share ceiling is higher than Jet Blue’s (or Sun Air Express or any other airline). That’s a faulty generalization fallacy.

          5. Actually that basic rule is moot, you can compare apples to oranges or apples to chairs as long as you can measure and quantify the differences in the formula. Comparing Apples and oranges is fine as long as I have an “oranges” coefficient to include in the analysis.

  3. “Southwest Airlines still doesn’t charge for the first checked bag.”

    First, Southwest has done an outstanding marketing in convincing the public that they have the lowest fares. Since their fares are not shared with any fare search engine websites, the public believe that Southwest has the lowest fares. They don’t have always have the lowest fares (like Walmart when they changed from “Always the lowest price”). When I have compared fares with Southwest out of PHX, their fares were the same or higher than America WestUS AirwaysAA.

    Second, if the other airlines adopted the Southwest’s model…the public will be up in arms. The first thing that the other airlines will do is to stop flying into the second and third tier airports that are served by regional jets and turbo props. Please remember that Southwests has only 737s to save maintenance costs. The second thing that the other airlines will do is reduce the cities that the serve. Again, please remember that Southwest do not serve all first and second tier airports. The third thing that the other airlines will do is to eliminate or reduce their international flights (it is hard to fly a 737 to Europe or Asia) since Southwest has limited international flights (flights to Caribbean and Mexico through their acquisition of AirTran)

    Please don’t misunderstand me…Southwest has a successful model (i.e. flying the popular routes; having one plane model to save maintenance; etc.) and it serves a market very well. My point is if every airline changed to the Southwest’s model there will be several markets that will not be served with airline service or their fares will be much higher.

    1. It’s interesting that in the case of Southwest you imply that consumers are fooled by “outstanding marketing” into buying more expensive tickets. You don’t consider that clear-eyed consumers might be buying a (sometimes) higher priced ticket because they see it as a better value (e.g. for the ‘free’ checked bag, ticket-change flexibility, and customer service).

      But in the case of companies that take unbundling to the extreme (e.g. Spirit), you seem to embrace the idea that their consumers are casting clear-eyed votes for lower prices and less comfort. In that case, it doesn’t appear you consider the possibility that consumers are fooled by marketing and low sticker prices without fully understanding the tradeoffs and the unbundled fee structure.

      1. WN has done a tremendous job in marketing and convincing people they are the lowest in a market…when they aren’t, they have the same fares 99% of the time. It is just want is available at the time you are looking that you see.

        1. they have the same fares 99% of the time

          Of course a base fare of $x that includes two checked bags, and ticket changes without a fee, isn’t really “the same” as a base fare of $x that includes no checked bags and no ticket changes for less than $200.

          And then there’s customer service. Which is harder to quantify. But achieving the lowest complaint rate of any carrier for 5 consecutive years — by a significant margin — surely isn’t a fluke.

      2. No, not really. Southwest has taken affirmative steps to create an illusion that they have lower prices such as not permitting mega engines to display their prices. Spirit and other uber-unbundlers have done no such thing.

  4. Arguing about what travelers want and what they will pay for it are useless withouit data. Saying that people will not pay more for better comfort is just blowing hot air since there is no real way to test the hypothesis in the present airline travel world. Sure, you can pay a huge premium to move from economy to business, but you can’t pay a little more for an extra inch in width or a little more for a better seat pitch.

    No one flies a fleet of planes with variable width and variable pitch to see what the flying public will pay for each increment in comfort, and doing so would be a technical nightmare. The provision of economy plus provides a bit of this variety, so maybe there is a way to decide what people will pay for the extra room. Or there would if these seats were not given “for free” to elites or doled out for free to economy flyers who were overbooked. Maybe the big data crunchers already know how much 3 inches is worth to the average flyer.

    Only flyers are not all average. Should there be a row or two in every plane for the long-legged, another row or two for the corpulent, another for the wide and tall? All, of course, with correctly increased fares (correct meaning revenue neutral vs the old cramped seating layout)? Sure, think about trying it, but who is going to do it, what happens when the whole Fat Man Society wants to fly at the same time, and how do you handle the Jack Sprat family?

    The bell shaped curve plus stastistical variablity will thwart perfect seating for every traveler, but what we have now is the equivalent of selling only three sizes of shoes. That would make it simple for shoemakers, but where would be a heck of a lot of people with sore feet.

    I predict plane seating configurations and the charges for variations in seating will not change much. So, a significant fraction of the flying population will be uncomfortable forever.

    Happy new year!

    1. Who really cares? Really. If I have to buy a ticket to LAX tomorrow, this discussion is completely worthless. I have to make a decision now and get it over with.

    2. That’s simply untrue. Airline bean counters have the statistical data from millions of passengers. The entire field of economics is to create a statistical model from that data to predict future behavior.

  5. “Several hotel chains, some of them relatively affordable, continue to include Wi-Fi and breakfast in the cost of their rooms instead of charging extra for everything.”

    The market is working…what is wrong? The market has several options for the consumer to select from. For example, if you want to stay with the Marriott chain and you want to have free WiFi and breakfast, you can stay at one of their brands such as the Fairfield Inn, Springhill Suite, Residence Inn, TownPlace Suites, etc.

    If you want to stay at a luxury hotel such as JW Marriott, Ritz-Carlton, Conrad, Waldorf Astoria, St. Regis, The Four Seasons, etc, then you need to pay for WiFi and your breakfast because that is part of their business model. There is a big difference between the free continental breakfast consisting of cold cereal and orange juice at a Choice brand hotel and the $ 26 morning buffet at an Omni hotel.

    By the way, can you list the SEVERAL hotel chains (not brands of the chain) that offer WiFi and breakfasts? I only came up with Best Western, Choice Hotels, Drury and La Quinta…of course there are exceptions at Best Western and Choice Hotels that I have encountered.

      1. I do like Hampton Inns,,,I started to stay with them back in 1987 or 1988 (there was one by the regional office for the company that I used to work for). Also, we like the Holiday Inn Express. On our last two family trips (Arches National Park and Santa Barbara), we have stayed at two really nice Holiday Inn Express.

        My second questionpoint in my original comment was that Chris wrote that several hotel chains offer free WiFi and breakfast but who are these chains? He didn’t write “there are several hotel chains with brands that offer free WiFi and breakfast”…he wrote several hotel chains (which means all hotel brands within that chain) offer free WiFi and breakfast. I like to know these chains.

        Best Western isn’t a chain but is really a brand because all of the hotels are operated by franchisees and there are not same standards such as layout, room size; breakfast, etc. among their hotels such as you can find at a Courtyard, Hampton Inn, Holiday Inn Express, etc. I have stayed at some Best Western where there was a charge for WiFi.

        Also, I have stayed at a Choice hotel where there was a charge for WiFi. The only two chains that I can think of that offer free WiFi at all of their propertiesbrands is Drury and La Qunita. Two chains are NOT several in my book.

        1. Perhaps he’ll add that phrase “with brands” to his statement here, but I believe that this article was originally written for USA Today.

          1. Are you saying that Chris Elliott, the super uber consumer advocate, world famous travel writer and ‘The World Smartest Traveler’ doesn’t know the difference between a hotel chain and the brands in the hotel chain? Say that it isn’t so… (sarcasm)

            If Chris doesn’t know the difference between a hotel chain (i.e. Marriott) and the brands (i.e. the Marriott brands: Bulgari, JW Marriott, Ritz-Carlton, Edition, Autograph Collection, AC Hotels by Marriott, Moxy Hotels, Marriott, Renaissance, Courtyard by Marriott, Residence Inn, Springhill Suites, Fairfield Inn, TownePlace Suites, Marriott Executive Apartments and Gaylord) then why make that statement since it seems like all hotel chains have at least one brand that offer free WiFi and free breakfast?

            If you take a look at these hotel chains…Best Western, Carlson (Radisson); Choice, Drury, Hilton, Hyatt, IHG, La Quinta, Marriott, Starwood and Wyndham…it seems that each of them have a brand that offers free WiFi and free breakfast.

            He should list hotel chains that all of the brands in that chain that offer free WiFi and breakfast. Or he should write “why can’t all of the brands in the hotel chain offer free WiFi and breakfast instead of the brands in the mid-size and economy sectors”

          2. If Chris meant that ALL brands within the hotel chain, that is very unrealistic especially for FREE breakfast.

            I have stayed at hotels where the breakfast buffet ranged from $ 11.95 to $ 75. Also, I have stayed at hotels where breakfast entrees ranged from $ 7.95 to $ 29.95. At these hotels, what price do you add to the room rate?

            More importantly, not everyone eat breakfast like my brother. For me, breakfast is the most important meal of the day (eat like a king for breakfast, a prince at lunch and a pauper for dinner). However, I have run across a lot of employees, co-workers, clients, business associates, vendors, etc. that don’t eat breakfast or have a reverse eating preference (eat like a pauper for breakfast, a prince at lunch and a king at dinner).

            Furthermore, some people will eat elsewhere. Recently, we stayed at a Hyatt for a family vacation. It was a free night (use it or lose it). The breakfast buffet was $ 26 per person. We went to a restaurant across the street that was on the beach and we had an outstanding breakfast…the charge was $ 30 for the three of us compared to paying at least $ 60 in the hotel.

            Back to my original point, there are hundreds of hotels if not thousands of hotels that offer free breakfast and WiFi. If you want to have free WiFi and free breakfast then stay at those hotels!

          3. Actually Chris correct. From the Starwood website

            Search from worldwide hotel directory for Westin, Sheraton, Four Points by Sheraton, St. Regis, W Hotels and The Luxury
            Collection hotel chains.

            I used Starwood because there is no Starwood chain to confuse the issue, unlike Marriott and Hilton which have a chain as well as a family.

    1. Actually within a family, the branded names are the chains. Sheraton is a different chain than Westin or Four Points. Starwood refers to them as chains. Part of the reason is that an chain can join, for example when the Le Meridien chain joined Starwood.

      As far as who offers what, I agree that’s a meaningless discussion. As Chris is wont to say “Nothing is free”. The question is only whether the cost is included in the price or not.

      As far as breakfast goes, Residence Inn and Embassy Suites both offer hot breakfast to all guests regardless of the number of guests in the room.

    2. The last 2 JW Marriott hotels I stayed at gave me free WiFi and breakfast and evening snacks at no extra charge.

      Maybe because I have their “Lifetime Gold” elite status? 😉

    3. Hampton Inns always have a very complete breakfast, both hot and cold choices, and nice tables to sit at. And WiFi in the rooms is free. The rooms are quite nice, with lots of room and good beds. And the prices are very reasonable. We’ve used them for many years in Tucson and Phoenix, AZ and next to JFK in NY.

  6. “Better yet, why not walk a mile in your customers’ shoes? Sit in economy class. ”

    I have to agree with this one. Airline execs should do this. One person that did do that was Continentals’ CEO, Gordon Bethune. He sat in economy so he knew what it was like.

      1. Well, I do. I’ve never watched a reality tv show, but isn’t there one called “Undercover Boss”? I like the premise of the show, but that’s my plebeian roots showing.

      2. I sat next to Gordon Bethune on a CO flight. It was in economy on a regional jet. Nice guy, bought me a drink. (Actually bought drinks for the whole plane load of us.)

    1. Gordon Bethune is an icon. Continental was fun to fly when Gordon was in charge, everybody was happy. Of course there were those bankruptcies …

    1. Same reason why you can’t have it anywhere else. Better generally equates to higher prices. Steaks cost more than ground beef. A Tesla costs more than a Prius. An Armani costs more than a Sears suit. Does anyone believe that travel would be any different? Chris?

      1. The same reason why the restrooms at Nordstorm are spotless, marblegranite tiles, soap in the soap dispensers, paper towels, etc. but the restrooms at Walmart are dirty, have stains, concrete floors, the soap dispensers are broken or empty, no paper towels, etc.

  7. Personally, I’d like not to be fooled or cheated. I don’t want to have to have eyes in the back of my head and a lawyer’s skill in renting a car or a hotel room. Some States have required contracts to be written in plain English (not legalese) and not parenthetically refer to various sections to avoid stating conditions clearly. I’d like to see a monthly or quarterly “Traveler’s Consumer Reports” that parallels the well-known Consumer Reports for products. I’ve been using that with success for years when making major product purchases. (Hint to Elliott!)

    The competition in flying should bring back competition for service. I’m old enough to remember the sandwich wars. Regulations required only sandwiches be served so the airlines were serving sirloin and filet steaks on a piece of bread and calling it a sandwich; trying to outdo each other.

    1. In the pre-deregulation era, there were three types of travelers: 1) Business; 2) Wealthy and 3) people who saved up money to fly. The reality was that most airlines passengers were business travelers (i.e. businesses were paying the fares) or wealthy individuals…it was very rare to find a middle class individualfamily flying because fares were “high”.

      Please remember that in pre-deregulation, the fares were the same from the airlines so service was the only thing that the airlines could compete on.

      If you want to go back to this era then people need to get their wallets and purses out to pay for it.

      1. Ugh. I remember those days. Two working parents, both with graduate degrees and at best, mom and dad could only afford to fly the family once a year.

  8. I think most travellers would vote for better service, but they actually want lower prices. I’ve mentioned before that Premium Economy is often half full on the flights I’ve observed. Passengers are pretty well doomed, as the mergers continue to reduce competition. The big hotel chains seem to be rolling out free WiFi to all, not just the loyalty people, so that’s something.

  9. I fly far less than years before because it is too painful to sit in those seats for 10+ hrs. so i sail to my job in Europe. and i DONT fly on short vacations for the same reason, just not worth the pain/time/effort. I drive.
    so the airlines may charge more but they may also have fewer clients

  10. In the discussion of “What do passengers want,” I am reminded of the many articles Elliott has presented which are concerned with
    changing flights, missed flights, and cancelling flights. It seems the rules have been skewered in favor of the airlines.

    Example: I paid $350 for a discounted, round trip ticket which I couldn’t use for an emergency medical procedure. The airline was
    notified that I would not be flying a week in advance. The rebooking charge for another round trip flight was $150 per flight leg; therefore the credit from the cancelled flight was $25.

    What was the cost to the airline? Surely one click on a keyboard made that seat available, perhaps at a higher price because it was closes to the flight date? Was that worth $300? Perhaps the seat was resold, creating a windfall for the carrier?

    Generally, in the market place, a degree of fairness is imposed by competition of vendors. Mergers, the hub system, and route dominance have decreased competition and with that the loss of fairness. I have little choice when it comes to some utilities; most of which are regulated. Perhaps it is the government’s job to do for people what they cannot do for themselves?

  11. It is a mistake to assume that passengers want the lowest price at all costs.

    There are multiple businesses that serve customers on several levels. It has been repeatedly shown that there is significant opportunity for reasonably priced services which give a little extra in exchange for a modest premium.

    Grocery stores, restaurants, and cars are and example of this.

    The philosophy that cramming ever more people into a plane without limit in order to lower the price a few dollars is absurd.

    Yes, there are people who will click on the lowest fare, without regard to whom it is with or what the level of service is. However, these are not the most profitable customers, so airlines should focus on a moderately more premium product.

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