Imagine if booking a flight or buying pre-flight add-ons through your smartphone was as easy as asking Siri (or a similar program) to update your To-Do list. And what if, after booking, your phone informed you of additional offerings that were just as straightforward to accept?

Airline apps might not be there yet. But perhaps the findings of a new industry survey will be just the encouragement carriers need to turn mobile app dreams into revenue-generating reality.

FlightView, the day-of-travel flight information company, finds that airlines are potentially losing a major source of ancillary revenue through a lack of smartphone engagement. While nearly all travelers said they used their phones to look up travel services and 89% searched for flights, just over one-third actually booked a trip and only 29% purchased a pre-flight add-on. Tablets fared somewhat better: 62% of travelers searched for flights on them and 49% booked a ticket.

Rather than latent security fears and data privacy issues, travelers said usability and functionality were the two greatest barriers preventing them from purchasing items on their phones. Poking around for data on tiny-screened, keyboardless devices was fine. But when it came to finalizing a purchase, inputting requested travel dates, credit card information and seat selection, most travelers switched to their laptops or desktops.

Surveying the Encouraging News
Given the many challenges facing airlines – fluctuating fuel costs, LCC competition, fee-based ancillary revenue traveler backlash and traveler satisfaction – FlightView’s findings are actually encouraging. Beyond some kind of talking Siri-like “wundergadget” there’s plenty airlines can and should do right now to improve mobile’s service-based ancillary revenue potential.

Timing is everything when it comes to cross-selling ancillary revenues and the right time is not necessarily during the course of the original booking.

Mobile booking engagement can be increased by using a hybrid “add-on” approach to desktop/laptop bookings. Timing is everything when it comes to cross-selling ancillary revenues and the right time is not necessarily during the course of the original booking. Instead, airlines and travel providers should consider the entire journey as a sales process. The period between initial booking and departure is particularly good for presenting relevant cross-selling options. These can be delivered to a mobile platform in a much less threatening way than booking and paying for an airline seat. For instance, a confirmation email for your booking or better yet, a message confirming your frequent flier upgrade to first class, could also contain a promotion to buy a mobile version of a Frommer’s guide for your destination. In other words, airlines need to think less linearly and get creative.

In some cases desktop payment options could be added to mobile eWallet format. Besides focusing on relevant add-ons, airlines should also take advantage of mobile deliverables such as premium travel apps and tickets to access plays, concerts or other events.

Don’t Forget the Fun – Or the Full-Picture Facts
Lest airlines forget, there’s nothing wrong with making the travel experience fun. Consider Wi-Fi – an amenity 58% of survey respondents said they’d buy access to via mobile. Tablet apps like Fly Delta, which includes its popular “Glass Bottom Jet” feature, might prove the “gateway experience” for future airline purchases. Glass Bottom Jet offers passengers a bird’s eye view of what they’re flying over. It also syncs with users’ Facebook pages, allowing users to see which friends they’re flying near, as well as offering shopping and dining guides. Think about an airline’s standard IFE moving map (already the most frequently-watched channel) and give it an ancillary revenue boost. That’s the potential I see here.

Of course, as someone who’s familiar with the ins and outs of the airline industry, I’d be remiss if I didn’t address a bit of survey skepticism. If so many respondents said they’ll browse on a phone and then book on another device, how much ancillary is really being lost? I think it’s more accurate to say mobile could be used more creatively to encourage additional purchases beyond tickets. But surveys like this serve a valuable purpose. They sound the alarm bell. And by framing the mobile ancillary revenue “problem” as a hole that needs plugging rather than a bowl that needs filling, FlightView makes the story it’s trying to tell more impactful and urgent.

Siri-like mobile booking and pre-flight amenity purchases might be miles down the technological runway. But that doesn’t mean airlines can’t begin the great app re-design now by considering my hybrid and fun-focused approach.

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Airline Mobile Apps Smarten Up and Drive Ancillary Revenue!

About The Author
- Roger is an internationally recognized expert on airline loyalty, alliances and ancillary revenues. He commands a consulting portfolio of top airlines and Forture 500 companies. Roger is also a professional photographer and cinematographer and works as a photojournalist for LoadFactor TV.