‘Bare Fares’ aren’t the ticket to success

Marketplace Staff Dec 28, 2006

BOB MOON: If you buy an airline ticket in the new year, you might want to ask yourself if you’re getting less than you think you’ve bargained for. United Airlines is considering a plan to price some of its tickets a la carte, meaning that you’d have to pay extra for services that used to be free.

Commentator Christopher Elliott says these special fares could change the way airline tickets are sold — if they take off.

CHRISTOPHER ELLIOTT: They’re called Bare Fares. And here’s how they’d work: In exchange for a lower ticket price, United wants to strip away everything but your airline seat.

Frequent flier miles, advance seat assignments, even the ability to check luggage . . . that would all cost extra.

If you’re one of those passengers who’s witnessed the steady decline of airline service since deregulation, and asked yourself: What could they possibly take away next? Well, here’s your answer.

Personally, I think United isn’t going far enough. The idea of a la carte pricing is to attract customers with a low price and then make money on the extras. So why not add more to the carte?

Why not charge extra for soft drinks? Don’t laugh. American Airlines recently tested it on American Eagle, its regional carrier.

Who’s to say every economy class seat has to be equally comfortable, or even have flight attendant service?

Take away the snacks, while you’re at it. Peanuts may cost peanuts. But they still cost something.

And yeah, even though the running joke is that the airlines would install coin-operated toilets if they could, maybe it’s time to ask the question: Why not?

Stripped-down tickets may be a great idea for the airline industry. All those extras extorted from a captive audience will bring much-needed revenue to a business that can’t seem to make any.

But they’ll end up flying with no passengers on board.

Travelers expect certain things with their airline ticket. The ability to reserve a seat and check luggage is a given.

A lower fare may attract them initially, but once the true nature of a Bare Fare is exposed, it’s going send them running into the open arms of the low-cost carriers who still get it.

BOB MOON: Christopher Elliott is National Geographic Traveler’s ombudsman.

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