When I first saw the tweet from Forrester’s Henry Harteveldt (who got my vote for most trusted person in travel) this morning that Spirit Airlines will be charging fees for carry-on items I had the same reaction that many probably did when they saw the headline: “Enough is enough, stop trying to shake me down every time I get on an airplane in the endless pursuit of ancillary revenue!” (I’m sure the guys at Southwest did handstands when they saw the news). And from a purely non-analytical sentiment analysis of reactions on Twitter, it seemed that plenty of people felt the same way.
But then I read the press release and I completely turned around my point of view. I love it. I applaud it. What we have here is more of a “failure to communicate” rather than a bad idea.
Here’s the Good
The important part in evaluating the new fees are the following graphic:
Yes, they’re charging for carry-ons, but note they are charging LESS for checked baggage than carry-ons (and there is a long list of excluded items + you get one free that fits under the seat). What they’re encouraging — although not marketing — is to change passengers behaviors to make it easier to load/unload the plane. One of my pet peeves is when people bring on big rollerboards that don’t fit in the overhead bins which both takes room away from other passengers (sometimes forcing others to stow their bags far from their actual seat) and takes longer to stow. So now all those people who are trying to cut a few minutes from their travel plans by not checking their luggage (and yes it is their luggage) will have to pay for that privilege…or check the damn bag.
The second good move for Spirit is that they’re discounting for people who are members of their $9 Club (promoting loyalty) and also rewarding those who plan ahead — which in turn allows Spirit to better plan ahead and increase the efficiency of their operations.
And now for the bad…
The only real problem I have with the move as you can tell is the way they communicated it. First of all they combined the announcement of their PENNY PLUS fares which seems to deliver lower fares and deliver a tremendous level of cost transparency to their passengers to show why the fares cost the amount they do. But then they muck up this great message (did you see any headlines about this or just the carry-on baggage fees?) by merging it with the new bag fee structure. Which leads me to my second point.
Now I recognize that Spirit is a low cost carrier and wants to continue to position every move they make as one that enables them to provide the lowest fares to their passengers. But I argue that they should have positioned the baggage fee move to highlight the improvement to the majority of their customers’ travel experiences (faster boarding, better on time performance) as the primary benefit and then show that it also supports their position as the low cost leader. Spirit’s Chief Operating Officer Ken McKenzie said “Bring less; pay less. It’s simple.” and the release does acknowledge the improvement to the customer experience. I just think they put the emphasis on the wrong syl-lable (as my high-school Spanish teacher used to say)…and it showed up in the headlines that were written.
So what do you think about Spirit’s move? Does this post make you feel any different than you did before you read it? Let me know.