US Airways May Not Save E-Mail Alerts for Cheap Fares

Instead of focusing on the e-savers, the airline wants to further improve their Web site and make it more of a user destination.
Instead of focusing on the e-savers, the airline wants to further improve their Web site and make it more of a user destination. (George Widman - AP)

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By Keith L. Alexander
Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Every Thursday for the past five years, Allan R. Clyde would monitor his e-mail for the latest weekend getaway flights offered at steep discounts by US Airways. He'd look for a last-minute trip to Minneapolis to see family or to Connecticut to see his goddaughter. He would even forward the e-mails, called "e-savers," to friends and co-workers whenever he saw a destination he knew they liked.

More than a million US Airways frequent fliers, like Clyde, have come to rely on the e-savers, which promise tickets as much as 40 to 60 percent cheaper than regular US Airways fares.

But the e-mails have disappeared for the past month. US Airways quietly stopped sending them as company executives focused instead on further blending its operations with America West. Since the two airlines merged, US Airways executives have been concentrating on combining their workforces; integrating their Web sites; and making sure the combined frequent-flier programs, totaling some 10 million members, were seamlessly stitched together. Weekly e-mails about cheap fares, though a small revenue generator, were not at the top of the list.

"It would seem like they'd let us know that the e-savers were going to be discontinued for a while. I mean, you subscribe to the service for a reason," said Clyde, director of periodicals for the District-based Council on Foundations.

For about 10 years, airlines have sent out weekly e-mails to their loyal customers highlighting cheap weekend fares. The carriers would review where the available flights were for each weekend and discount the seats to sell them quickly.

US Airways says the e-savers will return by June 22. But the carrier's enthusiasm for the e-mails does not seem quite as high as it once was. US Airways, like most airlines, now operates smaller and fewer aircraft to a diminished number of destinations. As a result, there are fewer seats available to discount, especially on popular routes -- and especially during the busy summer travel season.

"The e-savers are not as lucrative as people think," says Travis Christ, US Airways' vice president of sales and marketing. "The vast majority of people who are going somewhere this weekend or next weekend already know it and have already bought their tickets."

Instead of focusing on the e-savers, Christ wants to further improve the airline's Web site and make it more of a user destination. Before the merger, about 15 percent of US Airways customers purchased their tickets from the site. At America West, the figure was about 29 percent. Now, the combined airline sells about 20,000 tickets a day, equal to about 23 percent of its overall sales. US Airways hopes to increase that figure to 30 to 35 percent.

And while it says it would like to resume its e-savers, the airline has actually been considering doing away with them in favor of something similar to Southwest's "ding" alert system. Southwest customers get an alert on their browsers' toolbars each week when destinations goes on sale. That, Christ says, is a more attractive solution than weekly e-mails.

"We have thought about doing a ding concept. It appears to be successful for Southwest," he said.

Fares Increased: Several carriers, including American Airlines, Continental Airlines, United Airlines and Northwest Airlines, have raised their fares by $5 to $10 each way as part of an effort to offset rising fuel costs. The increases were primarily on advance-purchase tickets, used mostly by leisure travelers, says Tom Parsons, editor of Bestfares.com. It's the sixth fare increase this year.

But business travelers escaped the fare hikes. Last week, the airlines did raise prices for their last-minute, walk-up tickets, but by the weekend most had backed off after Delta Air Lines failed to match the increase.

Parsons says the airlines are trying to narrow the gap between how much business and leisure travelers pay and are having better luck getting the increases to stick on fares aimed at vacationers during the heavy summer travel season.

Delta did raise its surcharges on transatlantic flights by $10 each way.

Alaska Air Hiring: Alaska Airlines plans to hire 15 to 20 full- and part-time ticket-counter agents for its operations at Reagan National Airport by September. Alaska, which has three flights a day out of the airport, currently contracts with American Airlines to use its counter agents.

Alaska spokeswoman Caroline Boren said the airline decided to hire its own agents at Reagan to better represent the airline to its customers (especially lawmakers who regularly fly the airline to their home states).

"We want people from Alaska Airlines who have been trained with our customer-service standards and have allegiance to our company to provide service to our customers," Boren said. Alaska is taking job applications via its Web site.


© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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