Is Buy One Get One Free the Next Big Thing For Low-Cost Carriers?

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Dallas-based Southwest Airlines launched a nifty little buy one get one free promotion. They called it unprecedented. Under the terms of the deal, if you buy a flight ticket, you can take along a mate for free. It’s a gussied-up half-price offer.  But unlike a standard half-price offer, this deal gets two people on the plane. For a low-cost carrier like Southwest, that’s two people buying overpriced watery coffee. They typically get more ancillary revenue from two people than one. It’s a smart play by Southwest Airlines.

Southwest is offering a buy one get one free deal.

Southwest Airlines follows the lead from premium

Despite Southwest calling the offer unprecedented, these types of offers are reasonably common across the airline industry. Last week, Alaska Airlines ran a buy one, get one free offer. Emirates ran a similar offer over Valentine’s Day. Granted, neither airline is a low-cost carrier, but the deals are out there.

Traditionally, low-cost carriers haven’t bothered much with two-for=one offers. They pitch their base fares low enough to make such offers mostly redundant. That’s doubly so if you are in the short-haul business, like Southwest.

Across the Atlantic, Ryanair has a
similar offer to the Southwest deal. Ryanair’s offer applies to Value Fare
bookings with more than one passenger and covers 1600 routes across its
network. It’s a bit of a flash sale though and only available today, September

Tough times force innovation to get people into the

But these are not regular days for the airlines. In July, Southwest’s CEO, Gary Kelly said;

“One of the hallmarks of Southwest has
been our preparedness—for the unexpected. Recessions, wars, oil price spikes,
terrorism, brutal competition, you name it. This time “the unexpected” turned
out to be the worst crisis by far in our history.”

Against this background, Southwest has
kept flying. Arguably, it has been one of the more innovative airlines in
dealing with COVID and its impact on aviation.

“Hopefully, traffic demand will recover and match that capacity; remember it’s currently running down 70 %. We need to double the traffic from here to break even and close to triple to be profitable.

“Travel demand, usually steady and
predictable, is erratic and reactionary to COVID news.”

Tough times call for drastic measures. Getting that passenger numbers up is one of the drivers of Southwest’s buy one get one free offer. They won’t make much money, or any money, from selling the two seats at a substantial discount.

It’s not about boosting your friendships, it’s about
ancillary revenue

Southwest Airlines sits at the premium end of the low-cost carrier model. They don’t, for instance, gouge you when you check-in a bag. But let’s say you’re a young enterprising chap who thinks he might impress a potential new partner with a few days in Hawaii once the entry requirements there ease up. The potential new partner is not going to be impressed if you don’t pay extra for early boarding to get a decent seat. It’s a few hours out to Hawaii, so maybe a couple of weekends away G&Ts onboard are appropriate with a toastie or two to soak it all up. Thanks for coming, says Gary Kelly, we needed that money from all the extras you just paid for.

That’s where this is a smart move. The
opportunity to pick up extra ancillary revenue from that passenger flying
“free” increases at other low-cost carriers. Airlines like Frontier and Spirit
are far more aggressive on the ancillary revenue front than Southwest

It makes Southwest’s latest buy one get
one free offer interesting for all sorts of reasons. The offer will generate
extra passenger traffic, which all the airlines need. It creates the perception
of value, but Southwest will have run the numbers – they don’t give stuff away
needlessly. They’ll be confident this deal works as well for them as it does
for potential passengers. Whether buy one get one free is the next big thing for
low-cost carriers remains to be seen.

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