In a mobile-only world, will airlines charge for web bookings?

Right now airlines are introducing fees for bookings via the GDS but imagine a scenario five years down the road where an airline charges a fee for booking via the website instead of the mobile app.

It’s really not that far-fetched as a concept.

NB: This is a viewpoint from Philippe der Arslanian, chief executive of Answair, a strategic intelligence firm to help airlines go digital

Back in the 1990s, who would have predicted that passengers would have to pay a specific fee for calling their airlines, when this was seen as the best way to personalize and upsell with a human touch?

Nowadays, call center related fees are considered the norm and face no resistance from customers.

The shift from web to mobile will likely follow the same carrot and stick approach.

Airlines will slowly begin to provide more attractive functionalities such as mobile-only fares and extra miles for mobile bookings, while also penalizing users with specific fees on other channels – including the ‘traditional web’.

Today, the percentage of sales done through mobile globally is still in the mid-single digit range, but that is changing fast.

SITA predicts that airlines will nearly triple this figure to reach 12% of total sales in the next three years alone (with ancillary attachment rates following the same curve).

These statistics can be a bit misleading, as variations between airlines types and regions can be massive.

For example, an low-cost carrier in Asia usually has a much higher mobile revenue share than a full-service carrier in Europe, and we have seen specific airlines reach a 15% mobile revenue share in just six months based on aggressive and well-rounded plans.

Nevertheless, the trend is set, and applies to all airlines worldwide.

Today, mobile use is still mostly limited to interactions done during shopping, booking, check-in and boarding.

But these mobile touch points will multiply to a great extent, creating dozens of opportunities for airlines to notify and to sell, particularly around the DoD (Day of Departure). Mobile vs. web will follow the same pattern as web vs. call centres.

In the early days, the focus will be on matching the features, something that is addressed today through responsive design. Going forward however, mobile will overtake the web in its offering, and end up representing a true superset of what the web offers today.

The frequency of mobile-only interactions will also drastically increase due to:

  • the quest for immediacy related to instant notifications and impulse-buy decisions e.g. coupon or lounge access as well as “pay later” options
  • the limited real-estate of mobiles dictating simple, easy-to-buy, and personalized offers

The a-la-carte complex menu with too many ancillary options that currently exists on the web will simply not fit on mobile.

Personalized bundles and relevant packages will emerge instead.

Booking flow and ancillaries will be timely and sparsely offered to travelers on their device only at the right time and the right location e.g. exit row or seat upgrade before boarding a red-eye flight, to be paid in miles.

Some carriers are already ahead of the curve, with features more advanced than the typical seat and luggage offers: American and Emirates provide a pay-later option, Jetblue offers a fast track, and Lufthansa has extended its offer to rail tickets.

Ryanair leads the way with monetizing its seat-map with a slick and colored mobile-design, while BA introduced “my timeline”, which provides relevant information for users from check-in to landing.

Obviously, this penetration should be a selective one and is subject to a few reality checks, the prime example of which is basic wifi access.

With that in mind, we will likely see this upsell first take place on a domestic and regional basis.

However, soon enough, and well beyond responsiveness and mobile-first initiatives, mobile-only will become the predominant travel assistant for travelers on the go, giving them comfort and reassurance in any decisive moments, as well as timely, relevant offers that customers will be happy to buy.

NB: This is a viewpoint from Philippe der Arslanian, chief executive of Answair, a strategic intelligence firm to help airlines go digital

NB2: Image via BigStock.

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