18 July 2009

Psst Interested in a Special Deal on Volaris

Volaris the Mexican LCC is starting up service from the USA to Mexico.

For a small number of people there are some special discounts available on their inaugural routes. Volaris is part of the new breed of LCCs that offers more than the bare bones service.

They are profitable.

So if you want to sample the service and get a special discount - just ping me directly and (if you qualify) I will send you the special link valid on any Volaris flight out of LAX or Oakland/San Francisco that offers a 20% discount above the rate Volaris posts on its website. The code is good for any flight between September 1st, 2009 and November 30th, 2009.


Cronkite and The Moon

40 years ago this weekend - I like so many people (who are now mostly in their middle age!!!) were glued to our Television sets watching the events unfold on Man's first visit to the Moon. I watched the live broadcasts that came from the US complete in many cases with a voice over from the great Walter Cronkite. That wonderful voice of his narrated and added context to the historic events that were unfolding in Black and White in front of my eyes.

Yesterday as he passed - I got the email while I was returning home after completing a circumnavigation of this globe. I was able to reflect on so many things. Mostly why we don't have heroes and the voices of history that made it so real.

Thanks to Professor Mims for this link:


So let's celebrate the events and remember the guts and grit, luck and focus that got this momentous enterprise done. We should all be able to be so challenged and have that opportunity to succeed.

If then, why not now?


Warning: Greenmail on Travel Web Search?

I am catching up on a lot of things that have arrived in my "Interesting Stuff" files. About 3 weeks ago I received an email from an Intellectual Property Attorney Group offering for sale U.S. Patent No. 6,381,597 – “Electronic Shopping agent which is capable of operating with vendor sites which have disparate formats” For a view of the offer go here: http://catalog.oceantomoauctions.com/auction/lot/view/1/A2

I waited till I got home to see about this. The owning company is Omni Travel Search Inc. That rang a bell but not quite sure (I am of course getting a bit older so not enough grey matter to go round). So I persisted in my search. The only registered user of the product was a website called SweetFare.com. A US based company focused on US and Asia business. However it seems only to search on the big boys of Orbitz, Expedia and CheapTickets.

I'll bite even more...

The registrant of Sweetfare.com will be revealed in a minute but doing a search of Sweetfare showed a lot of posts and articles linked to Travel Mole. All of them pretty positive.

It seems that the owner of Omni Search is Omnitourism who just also happens to own Travel Mole.

Disclaimer here - A joint venture between this group and T2 created a 2007/8 study on LCCs via a service called www.inthekno.com.

What worries me is that the patent could clearly affect quite a few people. Will the new (or old one if it doesn't sell) owner go after the likes of Bing, Skyscanner, Mobissimo and Yatra?

Well this should be interesting. If you wish to buy this patent - then the reserve price is $200,000. Please contact Mr Paul Greco his email is: pgreco@oceantomo.com

And for the record - I don't support this form of behavior in any shape or form.

Best of Luck.

UAL CC Fees To Cost Consumers $2 billion?

The now big political spat over credit card fees that UAL want the agents to shoulder has everyone weighing in.

As Richard Eastman noted many weeks ago this has significant potential implications. However as I have noted - this is not something for everyone to get their noses bent out of shape on. We do have many other issues that are perhaps more important.

But let's play along with ASTA's Paul Rudin and use his $2 Billion number. If we accept the US represents about 1/3rd of total global traffic then this number would triple worldwide.

Thus we can say that now credit card fees comprise approx 3 times the cost impact to the airlines than GDS fees.

Etc Etc - Lots of big numbers to worry about.

Credit card fees are in the cross hairs of the airlines. Rightly so. As I noted in a recent post - with the near banks withdrawing from the credit card market we are seeing a pretty significant and steep increase in the imposition and collection of fees by the bank based credit card companies. Just like the airlines - CC companies have learned the unbundling trick. Although I am not sure who trained who in this bad set of practices.

There can be no doubt that the cost of using a credit card has risen and is rising for both Merchants and Consumers. In Europe and Asia/Pacific, having credit card fees covered by the consumer rather than a merchant is much more common behavior. Here are some examples from the UK:
Ryanair charges £5 per flight whether flights are booked online, via a call centre or at an airport. EasyJet levies a £2.95 booking fee, Flybe's charge is £2 per one-way journey, but rather confusingly lists a minimum fee of £3.50. Aer Lingus charges a £4 handling fee and British Airways charges a hefty £4.50 per ticket.

Ryanair recently lost a significant court fight that may have long time reverberations. The Superior Court of Justice in Berlin cited a European Union directive, which states that the charge is "inadmissible" unless Ryanair offers a charge-free method of payment too. They ruled that while FR offers free charges via Visa Electron the low penetration and usage of these cards made it largely irrelevant. This ruling could then reverberate around Europe.

Frankly we have to consider that if the US airline industry was to lose $3+billion this year, passing off more than 50% of that to the consumer is too large a number to avoid. So you can be sure United must be weighing its options - it may now be too late for people to back down.

What do you think?


Airline Seat Safety

A new rule has come into force that requires airlines to ensure that seats can withstand the impact of 16 Gs. Interestingly that is of course more than the poor old human body can withstand.

The rule has been on the FAA books for years but is nor required retroactively. Another reason to question why you would actually want to fly on a Boeing 737-200 anyway.

Airline seats are wondrous things. They may or may not be required (depending on whether you think RyanAir and a Chinese airline should be allowed to have passenger's standing up on flights). Business class and first class seats are already pretty elaborate things. In some cases just too elaborate (like the Emirates old Biz Class seats were plain awful). 3 separate sets of controls were just too confusing (particularly after several sets of drinks and a 16 hour flight!).

One idea I am particularly drawn to is the idea of seat airbags. With the auto industry having adopted air bags of all types into the passenger cabin - there should be no reason why an airline cabin should not be just as protected.

The AP put out an interesting article about airline pax air bags incorporated into the seat belt. Have a look here: http://www.mercurynews.com/travel/ci_12843291?nclick_check=1

I have to comment that the lap only belts on aircraft do worry me when I know that a shoulder/lap belt is the standard on a car and that indeed lap only belts are banned on cars.

And the cost... Well given the current price of an airliner today - we are talking about very low - probably sub 1% cost to add to the cost of an aircraft. This seems to be a very low price to pay for significantly increasing survivability in a crash.


Why Do People Go Online?

I get a lot of stuff in my inbox. As a voracious reader I love to see what is happening and more importantly what makes people tick. So for me the "why" question is always fascinating.

I have seen in the past some of the work thar Rudder Finn have done. While it is sometimes a little too slick for my personal taste their work adds a dimension to the why we do what we do.

Spending large amounts of time in front of my "machines" has recently been a topic of noodling in my head and discussions with my friends and colleagues. So I am going to be doing some occasional blogs on the subject of the right brain functions. These may not appear to be connected (probably because they wont be) but I do hope that they provide food for thought in our constant quest for understanding and ultimately knowledge and power over our environment - both professional and personal.

So click on over to the following URL:


Have a read and see what you think. eMarketer did an analysis of the numbers and determined that actually 100% of the users listed went on line to (drum roll please) Pass the Time!

For the eMarketer article go here:


So if that's the case then we are all a very sad lot. So this does indicate however that many of the assumptions about how airline and travel companies are marketing to their audiences may be fundamentally wrong. As with most things this has to be seen in context. However I do believe that the continuation of traditional marketing techniques and processes do not hold true for today's web based time passing consumers.

Food for thought?


17 July 2009

Love That Bigger Seat?

Premium seats are now under threat. And probably it's a good thing to examine whether or not Premium seats are a good thing or a bad thing.

Listen to the IAG Podcast from today when Addison and I look at the decision by BA to reconfigure its fleet from a premium focus to - well a more proletarian world.


16 July 2009

Twitter "A Fad?"

I realize that there will be a lot of people who will not be happy about this post. But I only report the facts ma'am.

Disclaimer first!

I am not a huge fan of Twitter and believe that the adoption of Twitter is overblown and hyped. Having used it - I believe it has some value in specific circumstances - but not to the level that the hype might have led all of us.

So it was very interesting to read about the media storm around Matthew Robson (aged 15 years and 7 months) and his piece which Morgan Stanley has published:


OK so this was widely reported. Now comes some hard evidence that says that the expectation of the behaviour of teenagers by adult pundits may indeed be all wrong.

Today eMarketer published some interesting stats from Neilsen and (surprisingly HBR). In April, Nielsen Online found that only about 40% of the service’s new users return the following month. A Harvard Business School study estimated that most Twitter users sent an average of only one tweet in their lifetime.

Find the article here:


I highly recommend reading both Matthew's piece and then the hard data from eMarketer. It puts things in context.

So it would seem that Twitter may at best be a niche tool and service may indeed be a fad.

At this point you will probably hear some of the audience exclaim that I am a curmudgeon. At the appropriate time perhaps I am. However I am not keen to use Twitter to communicate my message. It is just too restrictive and not functional enough.

Twitter is at least more useful than Second Life as a business tool. However its fall from grace may be just as spectacular. After all its just Twitterrhea...


The View From The First Half Airline Results

The results are now flooding in - a clear picture is emerging.

The traffic is off. The yield is way down. the number is best expressed by AMR's recent results.
Traffic off by 8+% and total revenues down 20%.

However judging by the last few flights I have been on you wouldn't think so. This also seems to be reflected by the airports numbers. So the travel is stabilizing. But as my recent poll shows - we are not going to see the rebound until 2010 at least.

So are we seeing a fundamental shift?

For once I have to agree with the esteemed Mr Walsh. Traffic is not going to come back the same way. We will see a real change in the corporate market. The business man is actually learning new tricks. The use of Skype and such tools as Webex etc has changed how we do things. The drop in business travel is permanent.

It is however interesting that yesterday I received an email froom British Airways telling me how they have commissioned a study of Harvard Business Review readers who astoundingly it would appear believe that face to face meetings are the best thing.

I reprint the whole text right here:

Dear Professor,

British Airways commissioned a survey of Harvard Business Review readers and the poll shows that nothing can take the place of a face-to-face meeting. We also believe that the bond formed during these meetings can make all the difference.

As you are a loyal Executive Club member and business traveller, I would encourage you to
read the research summary and enter to win a free business trip on British Airways.

Beginning in September, we are dedicating three entire planes from New York, Chicago and Los Angeles to London Heathrow. Simply tell us how connecting face-to-face will help your business grow. If your submission is selected, you and a colleague will be on one of those free international flights.

In the meantime, please feel free to review the highlights of the Harvard Business Review
research. And discover for yourself how face-to-face meetings can help your business grow.

Warm regards,

Anne Tedesco
Vice President, Marketing

I recall that great expression from Microsoft about eating your own dog food. BA has a policy of not allowing its people to travel for business. I think its still in place.... I am sure that Anne must have been in receipt of that memo.

OK so I am perhaps unfairly picking on BA. I am an unloyal customer but my decision to use them remains consistent. From this I have learned that an airline decision is not really about being positive. It is really about the least worst. I realize that a lot of you will not think DUH! the Professor has lost it. But humour me here. The use of a product by its consumers is driven by so many factors. What the airlines must learn is that they need to be far more nimble. The airlines have never been truly tactical in their marketing. The maturity of the internet and its attendant new tools like social media is finally bringing about that change. Airlines are however consistently behind the curve.

What I find very hard to appreciate is that after now about 12 months of the GFC, the airlines are only just now starting to do something seriously different. It could be because all the traditional tools they have used to modify their positions in the market (laying off staff, slashing budgets and yes stopping business travel), have largely failed to move the needle. Only the truly nimble and dare I say it smart airlines (particularly in the LCC category) are making sense of this current market.

So airlines after this pretty harsh half year - I hope that you will finally realize that it is NOT business as usual. And that you will examine ALL aspects of your current marketing and of course this means you are going to have to change how you reach your customers. The easy path is no longer working. Welcome to the brave new world.

And if you need some help... give me a ping


Scenes From A Consultant’s Toolbox – Part 2

I have been playing with mobile data. What a frustrating experience. Commercial models get into the way of the technology. But increasingly it is the way of the future. We are seeing (FINALLY) some real time 3G based services. But don’t buy the hype and be careful in what you buy.

Let me give you some examples. My Crackberry account in the USA is with AT&T. I can have an 3G mobile internet data package and I can have tethering – just not both!!!! How stupid is that!!!! I know a lot of US frustrated iPhone users who are really ticked off at the way the iPhone is locked out of some features and services by AT&T’s hobbled network and commercial practices. Hence my nickname for it – the CryPhone.

Yet the iPhone has tethering capability in the UK with the iPhone licensee O2. You just cannot tether with any other device on O2’s network. Instead you have to buy a dongle (on sale this month for 15 pounds on a pay as you go plan. Now I don’t know about you but typically my PC usage is about 1GB of transmission activity per day (there are several free tools you can use to track the throughput on your PC). So using metered activity is a pain in the rear. However O2 has an interesting set of plans – 500MB costs just 2 pounds per day. So think about this if you are travelling to the UK.

One of the best tethering devices is my other phone (my contract is with O2 in the UK but the phone is unlocked so I can use it with other sim cards). My phone is the excellent SonyEricsson C902. I have the stylish James Bond version – it also comes in basic black and red. As a tethering device it is in my humble opinion far superior to Nokia’s products. However I haven’t tried the new N97 yet. In Australia I bought a Sim and was very happy with the performance. Too bad that it cost me about 1 dollar per MB. So it could have easily cost me 500 dollars a day for my regular usage. Bah Humbug. However that’s better than O2’s roaming rates for mobile data in Europe which is 3 pounds per MB.

So here are some advice points for you if you travel and want international mobile data.

The best plans on the planet are the mobile email plans from T Mobile (USA) and AT&T. Your Blackberry unlimited email including attachments is only 50 dollars worldwide unlimited. Just don’t use voice or surfing.

For mobile data – always look to the number 2 carrier in each market they tend to be cheaper. However some times their plans are a little screwy. For example Optus in Oz has a really bad set of plans. In the UK O2 is better but costs still quite a lot. Consider the purchase of a dongle package. One benefit is that frequently they provide free access to a local Wifi network. For example in the UK the O2 program gives you access to the Cloud Network.

In the USA look at Boingo for a good service with wifi hotspots. Skype zones had a lot of promise but it has become yet another Skype failed initiative.

One thing I really want to try is the Samsung dual sim card phone. Currently a first generation effort – I would really like to see an advanced product. I am still waiting.


Scenes From A Consultant’s Toolbox – Part 1.

Oh Best Beloved! (For those of you who like Kipling. )

As you know my day job is running a consulting business. I am often asked if there is a good tool for communicating Given today’s harsh economic climate reducing costs when traveling as well as reducing travelling in total is important. Online presentations are a cost effective way to save on travel and get your message across. Of course being in the travel business it is probably not necessarily the best thing to be promoting a tool that reduces total travel – well welcome to today’s harsh realities.

So I thought it would be useful for me to give you some little advice on some of the tools that I use.

By now there is probably no one left on the planet who is online who hasn’t heard of skype. But in case you haven’t – it’s a great tool. www.skype.com. My team and I live on Skype. I know many who do too. Too bad it has become a bit of an orphan child at eBay. I have been waiting for months in anticipation for a Skype for Crackberry which was promised for delivery right after the Skype for CryPhones. So far its still “coming Soon” I guess they didn’t actually specify which year.

Speaking of Blackberries – and if you are looking for a cheap alternative to Skype out (to regular phone lines) then look no further than truphone. www.truphone.com. I have been using it for about 6 months and its pretty darn good. It does create a bit of an overhead on the Bold that I have which lengthens the time for call set up. But given my travel profile its worth it, What it does – is to offer a low cost IP connection in many markets to then dial out at greatly reduced cost. My biggest bug bear for international calls is the calls between countries not involving my home market. EG calling country B from Country C and your plan is in Country A. This is rape pillage and other bad things.

For Online Presentations – Webex is the gold standard. But it costs money. So is there a free one? Well there is its called dim dim. And unabashed if you go here and you sign up – I will get an increase in my size of audience. So please do this!. estore.dimdim.com/user/paidSubscription?referralID=[LinkVar-DB-DimdimID] the tool is pretty good too – at least for PCs.

In my next post I will attack the issue of Mobile Data.


Social Media and Airline Customer Service (Continued)

If I may – I want to weigh in (again) on this subject.

I think it is now very clear that the control over the public image of an airline by one party alone (the airline and its PR hacks) has irrevocably passed. The recent UA Guitar incident has demonstrated the power of the Social Network Community to blow up a single incident into a cause célèbre. However there are implications that many seem to have ignored. The speed with which this incident caught the web’s attention is just as easily aroused as it is diminished. What goes up must come down. Like many things – there will be a spate of copycat incidents that will catch the attention of the “network” and then they will move on something else will happen as it invariably does.

One item I did not previously comment on is the long term residual value. I speak some times to college and school graduates. I am constantly reminding these new entrants to the work force that they need to be very careful what they have on their social networks. A Facebook entry is not just for the short term – once its out there – it can be there forever. The same therefore can be said of a customer service incident. The UA Guitar incident is now immortalized in web annals.

There is something now fundamental that has occurred with regard to brands. Brands are now even more volatile and obviously much less controlled in this environment. Personally I do not subscribe to the notion that brands are dead. However the principle of airline product obfuscation that I have oft written is going to be a dying art. Now that makes, in my humble opinion, a more just and transparent market. Airlines are learning the lessons like everyone else. Let’s just hope that they learn the good lessons like the users of Facebook.


RyanAir Takes Delivery of 40 New Aircraft in H1 2009

There are published reports of Ryanair taking delivery of 40 brand new 737-800s during the first 6 months of 2009. I have not been able to independently verify this yet. However this bears a lot of credibility. Taking delivery of just less than 1 new aircraft every week has the FR delivery crews being very busy. Indeed only having one such crew would put them out of hours pretty quickly.

So Ryanair which has one of the highest utilization of the 738 on the planet is clearly turning them over fast.

The wily FR team is clearly not resting on their hands while the rest of the market suffers down customer numbers and yield erosion.


STAR and CO get Green Light – but at what price?

Much has been made of the DOT’s decision to proceed with minimal restrictions on the approval of the enlargement of the Star Alliance with CO and the approval of the new A++ group.

It seems that the DoJ had little influence over the decision despite laying out very clear anti-competitive objections to the proposed (and now approved) action. This would indicate a clear differing of opinions in the matters of air transport amongst the new Administration.

Looking behind the scenes therefore we can expect that there will be a number of future issues where Airline related matters are brought before the two Departments. For example should UAL and CO decide to enter into a merger agreement – a matter that the DoT clearly did not address in their ruling – then Justice would likely form a distinct barrier to that smooth approval process.

I believe that this is going to be a war that will entail many battles and that neither department is likely to give quarter on the subject. There will be heightened sensitivity by DoJ to matters of competition in Aviation related actions in the coming 3 years before the next Administration takes office. That should be interesting for all of us.

Interesting Non?


Tripbase Blog Awards

While the Professor didn’t win (well there was not category for Genius Commentator on Travel) Tripbase did a nice job in highlighting some of the best blogs on travel.

Here is the link to the nominees and the winners: Travel Blog Awards

It's worth a peek



The Ryanair Website Down Issue.

Firstly I am not being an apologist for FR or MOL.

The issue of taking the website down seems to have irked a lot of people. It has to be remembered that FR is a bus company. It is not a fancy airline.

I always felt that Southwest did an excellent job of lowering expectations and then raising them with the delivery. FR doesn’t bother about raising the expectations after lowering them. Its delivery is what it is. HOWEVER unlike LCCs (including WN) it consistently has lower fares than its competitors. Sure there is more than anecdotal evidence that FR charges higher prices in certain instances than its direct competition. However all things considered, they offer lower fares. So that makes it a” what you see is what you” get arrangement between the customer and the airline. Rather than being subtle about it, they just tell you upfront. I can point to innumerable times when I have been confronted with legacy airlines who have the exact same policies and do the exact same things as FR however WITHOUT telling you first.

Bottom line, FR did a good job in getting the word out. The people who will be impacted need to be ready for the outage. If they are not then its Caveat Emptor. Plain and Simple.