Paying More for Small Extras

By Keith L. Alexander
Tuesday, January 31, 2006

A new survey of 1,001 fliers suggests that many would pay a little extra for additional perks, such as extra frequent-flier miles, more overhead bin space and the ability to sit in a child-free section of the plane.

The report found that 31 percent of respondents said they were willing to pay more for guaranteed overhead storage, and 40 percent would pay extra to choose the type of movie played on their seatback movie screen.

Also, respondents said they would be willing to pay extra for an airline ticket if it allowed them to fly with an additional carry-on bag, or secured them unlimited alcohol or extra frequent-flier miles.

The survey, released Friday, was sponsored by Leflein Associates and Amadeus, a travel company that provides distribution technology to airlines and travel agencies. In the online survey conducted in November, Amadeus tried to get a better understanding of the nation's frequent fliers, how they purchase their tickets and what they are willing to pay extra for. The report coincidentally comes at a time when some airlines have begun charging for various amenities, such as meals, soda, pillows and blankets.

Chris Brown, Amadeus's vice president of business development, said the survey's most surprising finding was that airline passengers are more interested in the types of perks they could buy rather than how cheap an airline ticket is. For example, Brown found that travelers are more likely to book a flight on an airline Web site if they are rewarded with extra frequent-flier miles, the ability to pick their own seat and electronic check-in.

"Consumers are looking for as much choice as possible. It's not about the lowest price anymore," Brown said.

But some Biz Class readers disputed the findings, saying they wouldn't pay for anything extra. Most travelers say they already get extra frequent-flier miles and upgrades from their preferred airline, so paying extra for such added luxuries makes little sense. Greg Miller, a Laurel-based IBM software salesman, said he wouldn't pay extra to pick his own in-flight movie because he carries his own collection of DVDs to watch on his laptop.

Michael N. Gray, a Goleta, Calif.-based business development manager, said paying extra for anything is "ridiculous."

"The airlines have stripped all comfort accommodations to a point that it is a bus with wings; an old bus at that," Gray said.

Reagan National's 30-Minute Rule: In recent months, several Biz Class readers have written to me after flights into Washington's Reagan National Airport, saying the pilot enforced a "30-minute rule," requiring passengers to take their seats for the last half-hour of the flight.

Many of the passengers were left confused and surprised because the government lifted the security rule last July.

Well, it seems as if there still are some airline pilots who have not gotten the memo. Last Thursday, on American Eagle Flight 4121 from Chicago O'Hare International, the captain told the passengers -- including me -- that they were not allowed to leave their seats for any reason once the aircraft was within 30 minutes of landing at Reagan National.

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