At a time when the airlines can barely afford pillows, the industry has come up with a way to create prestige and give something of value to its first- and business-class customers for virtually nothing. Now that Delta has incited a price war by capping first-class, one-way seats at $599, airlines are searching for extra incentives to lure the full-fare business traveler.
United and Continental have found one in goody bags crammed with upscale items and gift certificates offered to first- and business-class customers flying between the coasts. The bags themselves are often first-class: United's bag for flights from New York to Los Angeles and San Francisco on Valentine's Day weekend is worth almost $1,000.
United, which started its service in December, gives out its goody bags on select flights and dates. Continental's bags, worth up to $75, will be given out every day starting February 1 on flights from New York to L.A., San Francisco, San Diego and Seattle.
"We think it's a win-win-win situation," United spokeswoman Robin Urbanski said. "It's a win for the people who put their product in the bag, it's a win for our customers and it's a win for United because it's practically no cost to us."
But will it pull travelers away from favored airlines or those in which they carry frequent flyer miles?
"I don't think goody bags are enough," said Colm Lynch, senior VP-account director for New York-based travel consultant Spring O'Brien. "Loyalty can only be engendered through the experience itself. That trumps all. Other factors such as the route and convenience and such come close, but the actual in-flight experience does it, and the goodie bags aren't enough to contribute to that."
It's definitely seen as a sampling boon, however, for marketers. United's bags are provided by New York-based Madison and Mulholland, an online magazine (madisonandmullholland.com) that makes recommendations for the affluent buyer. The company, founded by former "Entertainment Tonight" and "Good Morning America" producer Jane Ubell-Meyer, also creates a limited number of high-end celebrity gift bag and goody bags.
Madison and Mulholland has a number of clients that pay a fee to have their products included in the bags. The Valentine's Day promotion includes such marketers as Hyperion Books, Luggage Express, Travel Company, Rocky Mountain Chocolate and more.
Continental's bags are provided by Premier Bags, Brooklyn, and include such items as perfumes and colognes from Prada and Carolina Herrera, Godiva chocolates and book titles from Bantam Books.
Both Ms. Ubell-Meyer and Laine Lipsky, CEO of Premier Bags, said they receive some demographic statistics from the respective airlines to help them tailor the bags. "People sitting on planes in first-class are trend setters," Ms. Ubell-Meyer said. "They make an impact by creating buzz surrounding a certain product. It's experiential marketing." Said Ms. Lipsky: "With the products in the bag, you're starting a conversation. And in the end, the most powerful form of advertising is word of mouth."
Cecilia Vesnesky, marketing director for Boca Raton, Fla.-based Luggage Express, agreed. Luggage Express is a high-end company that will ship suitcases and bags for travelers who don't want to lug them on the plane or wait for them at a baggage carousel. In addition to being a client of Madison and Mulholland, Luggage Express also has co-branding deals with Crystal Cruises and Ritz-Carlton Hotels.
"Being in the goody bag is a perfect spot for us," said Ms. Vesnesky, whose company has a $25 gift certificate in the United bag. "People see it, maybe start talking about it, and maybe next time they think, `Gee, it sure would be nice to have the bags already waiting for us at the hotel."'
In the bag
Rocky Mt Chocolate (heart shaped small box): $10
Murad Soothing Lip Therapy (a lip balm): $11
Rene Furterer- Okara hair care kit: $52
Wyndham hotel DVD: $18
Kushy foot (socks) black: $5
Luggage Express $25 gift certificate
Travel Company $250 gift certificate
Biomentary Media Training by Bill McGowan gift certificate: $600
Cold Stone Creamery gift certificate: $5
Hyperion Books, one book per bag (each book about $23, all advance screening copies)
Biotherm Aquasource - moisturizing gel $21