Airline Perks That Motivate

This past year it was expected that over 45 million Americans would travel via air during the traditional holiday period – from December 17 through January 4. In addition, according to Airlines for America, the U.S. holiday air travel number increased by 23 percent in 2014. That’s a whole lot of people choosing to fly in America alone and similar travel increases were also reported worldwide.

With all these people choosing to take to the air, it got us wondering about just what promotional offers and airline perks actually lead to consumers choosing one airline over the other. It surely must be more than price alone….Right?

The Flying Facts

In order to find out just what factors motivate travelers to choose one airline over another, we ran a qualitative two-day research study using one of our Instant Research Groups to gauge consumer impressions. Our respondent group was wide ranging, consisting of both males and females, 25-55+, who stated they flew at least two to three times per year.

Our research objectives included:

  1. Explore American consumers’ decision-making process when choosing a particular flight, including how they approach the process, what factors influence their decision, and what ultimately causes them to buy.
  2. Understand which type of special offers or specific elements of special offers are most effective at motivating consumers to purchase tickets from a specific airline.
  3. Understand what, if anything, consumers expect to have included with their airfare (i.e. checked baggage, carry-on baggage, food/snacks, drinks, etc.)

Not surprisingly, the initial findings indicated that base ticket price led the decision making process. Many respondents stated, up front, that it was the primary driver for the decision to purchase.

IRG Respondent

Since price is the key factor in my decision of which airline to choose, deals are very important. If I was to have a certain airline in mind and another airline sent me an offer for a better deal, I would be most likely to switch to the one with the better deal.

Male, 26

However as our expert moderator began to probe the respondents, it became clear that there were many more factors that were being considered. Number of stop-overs, scheduling needs, comfort, and number of bags allowed also made a significant impact prior to any promotional offer considerations.

IRG Respondent

Of course I look at the best price and the best schedule of flights from an airline that meets my needs. I look at the baggage policy too. But I also look at comfort and amenities too. I like Jet Blue because of their comfortable seats and I can watch TV which makes the flight go faster.

Male, 30

So Which Perks were Perkiest?

There are a number of motivators that savvy airline marketers focus on. Some really seem to hit the mark with our respondents and some fall short. Our respondent group was quick to indicate which deal was best.

Most surprisingly, the offers that tout a free checked bag, an upgrade with more leg room, included meals, or free Wi-Fi were considered the perkiest.

However, those offers were not felt to constitute a true “deal.” Therefore the advertised perk was just that….a nice perk.

IRG Respondent

Second or more piece of luggage is okay as long as there is a reasonable amount that can be carried on. Meal service on flights of less than 2.5 hours — more than that and hunger can become an issue. Beverages beyond coffee, tea and water and snacks at all times but prices should be reasonable. WIFI charges should be modest perhaps just a few dollars — it’s not worth more than that on a short flight.

Female, 37

Money Talks

Far and away the leading motivator for choosing one airline over the other was monetary discounts.  Our respondent group was clear in drawing a line between perks that were “nice-to-haves” and the true offers that really motivated their final decision. While a free meal was good, a free checked bag was better…a perceived fiscal savings was best.

Whether it was a percentage discount off the flight cost, a perceived discount via a hotel and airline bundle deal, or a 2-for-1 discount, consumers were motivated most by a perceived financial savings on the fight cost itself.

IRG Respondent

The [top] offer that comes to mind the most is when Orbitz would give you the difference if someone booked a flight after you for a lesser amount. So if my flight was 100 dollars and someone got it for $50, I received a check for $50. That’s the only deal that I can really remember but it made me more loyal and I often check back to see if they’re doing any promotions like that.

Female, 37
IRG Respondent

An offer that combines my flight with a deal on a hotel certainly resonates with me. I love package deals that save me money not only on my flight but also on my lodging. I received just such an offer from Orbitz for a flight and hotel booking to Disney World in Orlando, Florida earlier this year and it was wonderful to save money on our trip.

Male, 30
IRG Respondent

I think the 2-for-1 offer would be enticing. Most people that travel for pleasure would include their spouse or significant other.

Male, 59

This study was one of our more intriguing Instant Research Groups because the feedback given clearly indicated that many of the common perks traditionally advertised did not have as much of a motivational buying impact as one would expect. In the end, it really came down to cost…or more importantly, a perceived discount.

While the airline perks offered may always change, it was clear to us that gaining a quick consumer read would be the best course of action before spending millions of ad dollars. The next campaign idea could sway your consumer to buy or just might get lost in the wide open sky of perks.  At GutCheck, we do this every day. We help our clients get quick reads on product concepts and advertising to ensure their message truly resonates with their consumers.

In addition to the discoveries mentioned in this post, we uncovered a number of other interesting facts about traveler behaviors like which perks should be free and how the timing of when you book matters.

Download the full executive summary report to see the complete findings now!