05 October 2010
AirAsia X’s initial sales from global distribution systems are not yet paying off, with GDS bookings accounting for 3% to 4% of its sales and failing to generate a “material difference” in yield compared to online purchases, says CEO Azran Osman-Rani.
The latter point is critical because low-cost carriers will pay for the GDS distribution model only if the yields are sufficient to offset the cost of using the channel. However, Azran told The DAILY on the sidelines of the World Low-Cost Airlines Conference in London that he is willing to give the experiment another year or so to see if the GDSs produce better results. AirAsia X only recently separated from AirAsia and now has its own commercial team, meaning it can work closely with travel agents and GDSs on how best to market its product instead of paying AirAsia a fee for its GDS connection. “If something good comes out of it, great; I’m not dogmatic about it,” Azran says. “But I think as is, something is not right. Something needs to change. I don’t know what it is.”
What he does not want to give agents is what some of them continue to clamor for—GDS access to AirAsia X’s promotional Internet prices, which he says shows they are focused on selling solely based on price. That’s a marketing challenge because the airline attracts business travelers who are more price-sensitive than customers for other airlines, and right now even customers at million-dollar businesses are telling their secretaries to book online instead if the online price is cheaper than what the agent can offer, Azran says.
Azran reports better results with AirAsia X’s lie-flat seats. The airline has 12 such seats on every aircraft and is filling them at about the same rate as economy class, with about a 75% load factor, he says.
Customers who pay for the seats also get flexibility on ticket changes and food, pillows, blankets and priority baggage included in the fare. The seats are selling particularly well on the airline’s U.K., Australia and Taipei routes, Azran says, but less well on new routes in China and India, where passengers are less familiar with the differentiation in low-fare products. That is demonstrated by the selling patterns in those locations, he says. When load factors in economy seats reach about 80% on a given flight, the fare difference between them and lie-flat seats shrinks to about $20, which should convince travelers to upgrade to lie-flat seats. But customers there are still buying economy.
By Andrew Compart