Delta's Best Fare Guarantee: No Guarantee of Smart Marketing

Last Updated Mar 6, 2008 7:34 PM EST

Do I hear an echo in here? Delta Air Lines recently rolled out a best fare guarantee for its website, and to be honest, I think we've heard this before. Airline websites have had guarantees come and go over the years, but none of them seem to stay out there for long, at least not prominently.

There's nothing remarkable about the way this one works. Customers have two options. If they find a ticket cheaper somewhere else within 24 hours of buying on, they can get a full refund. Um, they already had that beforehand as part of their Customer Commitment (page 42). The other option, which actually is new, allows customers to submit a claim and request the fare difference along with a $100 voucher for future travel. For this to work, the fare difference has to be more than $10, has to be proven, and the claim has to be submitted the same day the ticket is purchased.

So really, what's the point? It's definitely more of a marketing message than anything else, and most people won't take the time to do the research and then come back to make the claim. But is it a marketing message that works?

Since airline websites are generally the lowest cost distribution channel, it makes sense to drive customers that way. But should they always have the cheapest fares? US Airways would argue that they shouldn't. The airline has implemented a $5 hidden booking fee on most trips booked on the website. So if customers go to a place like Priceline that charges no booking fee, they can actually find fares cheaper there. How can these two airlines come to completely different strategic decisions?

Delta must think that there's still plenty of opportunity to drive traffic to the airline's website. Maybe they don't think they've reached the level of penetration at which they'd like to be, so they are really focusing on marketing the site further to attract new business.

Meanwhile, US Airways has ended the online booking bonus and added the fee to the website. That tells me that the airline is more concerned with maximizing the revenue of the people who are already there as opposed to attracting new people to the site.

I'm not sure that one strategy is "right," because we're dealing with two very different airlines here. What I do know is that these guarantees really haven't done much in the past.