I have been busy the last few days so I am trying to get caught up with a few posts today. Most of these are pretty quick bits but I will have some of my more analytical thoughts in the coming days. To the news!
Delta Air Lines announced today that "Delta Comfort+ [is] now available as a fare for domestic flights." My first thought upon seeing the headline on the press release was "Huh? Comfort+ is nothing new. What are they talking about?" Then it dawned on me what they were saying. Currently, you purchase Comfort+ as an "add-on" after you select your economy cabin fare. At the seat selection screen, if you want a Comfort+ seat, you are presented with the price and you then approve the selection. You actually get billed separately for the Comfort+ charge from the fare itself. Beginning with flights scheduled for May 16, 2016 and later, Comfort+ will be a fare option in and of itself that will include the seat and all other bundled benefits in a single price.
Delta Senior Vice President - Marketing, Tim Mapes, said the change is customer-driven. While I don't find this change customer unfriendly, I don't see it as particularly friendly either. To me, it is really six of one, half-dozen of another. Is it easier to select a Comfort+ fare and avoid the verification that you want to pay extra for your Comfort+ seat? Yes, slightly. Was the old method a major imposition? No. I can see that there might be some benefit to corporate travelers who could have an easier time getting a Comfort+ economy fare reimbursed versus a separate seat upgrade fee. When I last traveled on business, I had to pay the upgrade charge on my personal credit card. However, I suspect the real motivation behind this move is smoothing the path to converting a customer from standard economy to Comfort+.
My day job is in pricing (what, you thought I am able to fly around and stay in hotels while writing this blog like some of the other bloggers out there? Not yet! :)). A best practice in pricing is to align the price offered to the customer as closely as possible to her valuation of your offering and her willingness-to-pay. I know Delta has to have significant research and data on how many customers start to book Comfort+ then change their minds and opt for a standard economy seat. While the psychology of pricing and marketing is not my speciality, I can see an add-on charge as an extra friction point between customer interest and completion of a booking. Also, by breaking out that price, you force the customer to specifically assess whether the benefits offered by Comfort+ alone are worth the price. When considering the bundle as a whole, a customer may be a little less focused on the constituent value of the components of the bundle and consider the benefits as a whole versus a small differential in price, perhaps 10%-15% over the standard economy fare. Either way, while I don't think Delta is trying to act in an underhanded way toward the customer, I don't see this change as a purely altruistic move to merely enhance customer satisfaction.
Am I pleased to see the change? Yes, but I am far from jumping up and down. If nothing else, a single charge makes download credit cards charges into my personal finance software a little easier!