A Better Way to Market New Basic Economy Fares

The big three airlines have released their basic economy products: limited seats at a low cost and without customary benefits such as overhead luggage space and seat selection. It’s a natural response to recapture the market share of budget travelers, snatched up by low-cost carriers.

Amélie Touroyan

Consultant at C Space

Amélie Touroyan is a consultant at C Space Boston with an unending passion for travel. After graduating with a degree in Anthropology from Mount Holyoke and working at a non-profit for several years, she’s now driving her clients to reach new heights – in every sense. When she’s not creating impactful work, she returns to ground level and spends her time blogging about travel. Amélie also loves lists: she’s working on summiting the highest 115 peaks in the Northeast and traveling to all 50 states.

The big three airlines have released their basic economy products: limited seats at a low cost and without customary benefits such as overhead luggage space and seat selection. It’s a natural response to recapture the market share of budget travelers, snatched up by low-cost carriers (LCCs) such as Spirit and Southwest.

Frequent flyers, specifically those who fly under a corporate travel policy, fear their corporate travel policy will force them into these restricted, uncomfortable seats. In some cases, they will eventually lose their status tier and their accumulated miles will stagnate.  This is just one concern we hear from flyers, like this business traveler, who says,

If I’m United, or Delta, or AA, or an international carrier, there is a certain level of service I expect. Basic economy strips all services down to the bare minimum. Unless it’s considerably less money, I would just fly JetBlue, Southwest or another LCC.”

Here’s a crazy idea. Why not frame basic economy as something that enables adventure, not just travel?

Here’s what we know: business travelers weren’t the demographic that flocked to Spirit and Southwest in the first place. By that logic, basic economy fares should seek to recapture the vacationing budget traveler whose loyalty falls with the LCCs. Oscar Munoz, CEO of United Continental, recently stated that basic economy is intended for “folks on a quick day trip or [who] are price sensitive.” Munoz doesn’t think basic economy is designed for the regular business traveler.

Let’s consider the implications of a richly emotional marketing campaign that makes basic economy seats the first choice for the global nomads. Free spirits. Airbnb explorers. For those who travel with barely more than the shirt on their back. For the student who wants tick the list of 50 US capital cities…or surprise his mom. Spontaneous day trips. Adventurous one-way tickets. You get the idea.

Turo, a popular car-sharing service, has a wonderful video that highlights the destination, rather than the journey. Focusing on the reason for traveling, rather than the time spent in the seat, sends a powerful message about the priorities of Turo’s target consumer.

That same consumer will likely be willing to “rough it” in a basic economy seat. Especially if that seat is presented in a way that celebrates their freedom and taps into their desire to go more places, experience more, and see more of the world.

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