AB25: Ancillary revenues yesterday, today and tomorrow

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Ancillary revenues yesterday, today and tomorrow: Collinson Latitude business planning director Janet Titterton discusses

When ancillary revenue first began in the late 1930s, it was motivated by operational constraints, as opposed to any sense of commercial opportunity. On the pre-war trans-Pacific Pan Am Clipper flights, excess baggage beyond 77lb (35kg) was charged at $3.25 per lb - a generous price given that the island-hopping journey from San Francisco to Hong Kong took six whole days.

The next significant development was the offering of in-flight duty-free sales, introduced in the 1970s, followed by car and hotel bookings. Although these "extras" were available, they rarely sold successfully. Pre-internet, it was difficult for telephone reservations clerks to convince customers that an airline could reliably sell anything beyond plane tickets.

When the dotcom boom happened in the late 1990s, airlines realised they could now use their websites to drive ancillary sales of other travel-related products and services. This, combined with soaring fuel prices and an increasingly competitive market, first saw the low-cost carriers seek to generate new revenue streams with bag check-in charges, which, given its success, quickly spread to the legacy carriers too.

Today, however, the term "ancillary" can be applied to two different elements of airline revenue.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR 

janet titterton, collinson latitude
Janet Titterton leads the sales and marketing and is part of the management team at Collinson Latitude. She has extensive relationship and interactive marketing experience on both the client and agency side in leading organisations. More information here
First, there is the revenue from unbundling. This really is nothing more than changing the pricing structure in an effort to avoid having to raise ticket prices.

Although unbundling charges have been reluctantly accepted, there is no easy way for customers to compare the true total cost of their own specific itinerary. Unbundling continues to be profitable, and some carriers continue to innovate, motivated by the margin available from packaging their own inventory. However, unbundling can be developed only so far. Continental Airlines recently reported that 70% of its business customers now choose not to check in their bags at all.

Second, airlines are generating more and more revenue by offering added-value products and services from third parties throughout the online booking process. Brands such as easyJet, Air Asia and British Airways all present relevant, useful hotel and car hire options as an integral part of the online customer journey.

At the recent Aviation Outlook conference in Singapore, one travel insurance supplier noted that 99% of its success comes when the sale is seamlessly incorporated as an integral part of the booking process, and only 1% from the extraneous "book insurance" tab on the home page. Offering customers a choice of destination-relevant insurance just after they have booked their flight is a great example of how to provide the right message, to the right audience, at the right time, allowing for ancillary offers to be further tailored to the choices the customer has already made.

This approach represents the true future of ancillary revenue and will see airlines thinking beyond journey options and towards adding value to the customer proposition. The most valuable asset any business has is its customer base, and with their long history of frequent flyer programmes (FFPs), most airlines are sitting on an untapped gold mine of customer data. Also, airlines are in a unique position because they have permission to use this data, presenting the opportunity for predictive data modelling that can be used to forecast trends and provide customers with products and services tailored to their needs.

One way for airlines to capitalise on this is to consider the success of the banking industry in offering customers added-value accounts. In the UK, banks collectively earn about £800 million a year from charging current account customers a small monthly or annual fee for additional services, which include banking services as well as lifestyle and travel-related benefits. The fact that many customers now buy their travel insurance and airport lounge from their bank should be a major wake-up call to airlines that are missing out on this revenue stream.

Providing consistently branded online shopping portals, where customers can pay cash or redeem loyalty currency, also has huge potential. Both Cathay Pacific's Asia Miles and Virgin Blue's Velocity shopping portals are excellent examples of where third-party goods as diverse as homeware, jewellery, iPods, clothing and even food and drink are offered in return for customers' points, thus generating shared revenue and customer engagement regardless of whether consumers will actually be flying with the airline.

Finally, as the world goes increasingly mobile, the future of ancillary revenue, combined with real-time GPS technology, will see airline brands offering customers additional products and services based not only on who they are, but where they are.

The key to adding value though ancillary revenue, and building a relationship with customers, is relevance, both to an airline's brand position and also to its customers. With that in mind, the next generation of ancillary revenue or, as we call it, AR2, will be centred around creating profitable customers for life, by adding value, not adding costs; by rapid implementation of new technologies, products and ideas; and by seamless targeted customer interaction.