Who killed cheaper, specialty fares like last-minute bereavement deals or tickets for sale to seniors only? All of us helped to an extent, but like a latter-day Hercule Poirot, I am now prepared to name the real killer: The internet.
In years past, an emergency like a death in the family qualified travelers for small discounts on expensive last-minute airfares. Example: Buy a round-trip fare from Atlanta to Chicago a month in advance and pay about $330; purchase the same ticket for next-day or same-day departure and the price balloons to $1,020.* Bereavement discounts weren’t much – only about 5-10 percent off – but every little bit helps.
*Real fares, as of March 2014.
We love it, we hate it, we can’t live without it: The internet. And by internet I mean self-service, online comparison airfare shopping – coupled with airline mania to merge and consolidate, not to mention all those fees.
Murder by Internet
The crime was committed in four steps.
- Knowledge gleaned from searches: Every online airfare search we do provides airlines with intelligence and in some cases, the ratio of searches-to-bookings is 1,000:1. That’s a lot of information and the airlines use it to cut capacity and fill empty seats. Specialty fares once filled those empty seats but no need for that now.
- Simple is better: Today’s internet shoppers demand simplicity because they want airfare queries answered in an instant. Speed requires simplicity and it is not simple to offer a variety of discounts including bereavement fares.
- Device real estate: Forget big screens, many of today’s shoppers use phones and tablets for airfare searches and those cannot provide enough screen real estate to show every pricing option. When options don’t fit, options get dropped.
- Downsized workforces: Like many businesses, airlines have downsized to save money and/or to consolidate ranks in times of mergers. That means fewer folks on phones to answer questions about specialty fares, and fewer folks in the offices to file and maintain specialty fares. When push comes to shove, it’s the specialty fares that get the heave-ho.
Remember the old song Video Killed the Radio Star? We could stretch a point and say the death of specialty fares was a little like that.