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Flying ‘A La Carte’: Consumers dislike fees, but are willing to pay for choice

Written by editor

Amadeus, a global leader in technology and distribution solutions for the travel and tourism industry, today released a new survey that, for the first time, captures sentiment around emerging airline

Amadeus, a global leader in technology and distribution solutions for the travel and tourism industry, today released a new survey that, for the first time, captures sentiment around emerging airline fee-for-service models, also known as ‘a la carte’ flying, from the people who are most impacted by them: air travelers.

The telephone survey of 2,000 random adults in the U.S. (ages 18 or older) was conducted Oct. 16-20. Completing the “Flying A La Carte” survey were 735 adults (366 men and 369 women) who had flown at least once in the last 12 months. The margin of error is +/- four percent.

“Over the past year we have really seen the emergence of an ‘a la carte’ approach in air travel. So we wanted to hear from consumers because they ultimately determine what flies and what doesn’t in the marketplace,” said Robert Buckman, Director of Airline Distribution Strategies for Amadeus North America which commissioned the survey.

According to survey results, not surprisingly the majority of air travelers (85%) dislike paying fees for services they received free as little as a year ago. But it is telling that many consumers (52%) not only understand why airlines have embraced the ‘a la carte’ approach, but they also see value in the choices it brings to the flying experience.

Of the air travelers surveyed, 53 percent agree with the statement “I prefer the cheapest base ticket fare available so I can then pick and pay for extra services I want.” One in 10 say they do not mind paying for optional amenities individually. Only 18 percent prefer an all-inclusive ticket with its higher price. Less than a third of respondents think airlines have gone too far with new fees.

On the flip side, there is strong sentiment that some items, especially checked bags, should remain free. Half of respondents indicate that ticket fares should include first or second checked bags. Seventeen percent indicate blankets and pillows should be free, while 15 percent want free seat selection.

But passengers will and have paid for ‘a la carte’ for services. Fifty-seven percent have or would pay for food and beverages on a flight and 37 percent have or would pay extra for checked bags.

Additionally, willingness to pay extends outside the fuselage, especially when it means greater flexibility and convenience. Fifty-seven percent report that they would pay extra for the ability to make ticket changes without penalty. Nearly 40 percent indicate that they would pay for less hassle and more time savings in the form of priority check-in and boarding, priority baggage handling, and the ability to fly with an additional carry-on.

At the end of the day, however, travelers’ priority is getting to their destination. By a 10:1 margin, passengers agree that schedules and routes trump available amenities and services.

And when it comes to holiday travel and the overall impact of economics, consumer reaction is mixed. Of those consumers who intended to fly, some are still moving forward with their holiday air travel plans (20%), while others are not (15%). Still others remain undecided about whether to stay or go (9%). But consumers remain optimistic for 2009 and expect to fly as much or more (63%) than they did this year.

Buckman said the survey results show that consumers value ‘a la carte’ choices and will pay for what they value. And no matter how economics evolve, he said it is likely airline fee-for-service models are here to stay.

Buckman said this is an extraordinary opportunity for airlines to think creatively and strategically while leveraging new technology to deliver new, differentiating value that meets their corner of the market’s needs.

“‘A la carte’ is reinventing the airline retail experience for the first time in decades and creating an opportunity for airlines to deliver real differentiation among their competition and value for consumers,” said Buckman. “And consumers won’t feel nickel-and-dimed if they are getting something they value, whether it is choice, convenience or simplification.”
Buckman said the travel industry is also evolving to support these new models. He said Amadeus has a long-track record of serving the IT needs of airlines, including successfully supporting their unique business models, revenue objectives and e-commerce strategies. And in April of this year, Amadeus began the phased rollout of the Amadeus Airline Retailing Platform. Once implemented, this technology will enable airlines to fully merchandise their diverse fee-for-service offerings, while also enabling travel professionals to fully compare and advise travelers on all their options in air travel.

Full survey results from the “Flying A La Carte” U.S. consumer survey are available at