Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Will Airline Fees Pinch Business Travelers?

Joe Sharkey wrote an interesting story in yesterday's New York Times, speculating that frequent flyers with lower levels of elite status may see some of their perks evaporate as airlines try to merchandise everything bolted and not bolted-down on the plane.

If these road warriors get priority boarding or exit-row seating as part of their elite perks for free, will the airlines ditch the freebies they give business travelers in favor of a non-elite traveler who may want to pay $15 or $20 for the premier seat, Sharkey wonders.

He even speculates that some of these new pay-as-you-go ancillary products, as they are known, may go up for auction, with the exit row seats going to the highest bidders.

Will we see a sort of Priceline system for priority boarding, premier seats and lounge access?

In that regard, I like a tweet I saw this morning written by Gregg Brockway, CEO of TripIt, from the TravelCom conference in Atlanta. He tweeted: "Enjoying #TravelCom. The upstarts generally seem happy and the establishment pained. Creative destruction at work?"

Brockway wasn't referring to airline merchandising, but I like the "creative destruction" reference.

In the next few years, airlines' souped-up merchandising efforts are going to bring a lot of disruption, altering the way travel is bought and sold on the Web and offline, too, for business travelers and just plain folks.

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