I have a confession: I’m a frequent traveler. By choice. Even in these days of predictable flight delays; baggage handling snafus; charges for in-flight meals, snacks, and pillows even; and endless waits in long lines on the tarmac while flights takeoff or disembark passengers.
I make regular trips to the nation’s capital at least nine times a year. That’s a round trip air ticket, plus rental car for each visit (I’ve travelled to Washington, DC, twice within the past three weeks). I’m a pretty regular customer for anyone whose paying attention.
Hertz is. Every time I bid on Priceline for a rental car at the airport in Washington Dulles, I get a nearly instantaneous reply from Hertz accepting my offer, virtually regardless of the amount bid. It’s turned me from an Enterprise-by-choice to a Hertz-by-choice customer. Not bad, considering how often I rent cars, including during holidays when they charge a premium.
I noted recently that Hertz’s Connect service offers hourly rentals in NY with rates as low as $8.50/hour, ala Zipcar and other competitors. Smart move, considering more and more consumers are reducing their carbon footprint through less reliance on cars, among other promising energy trends. For this, I applaud Hertz. Some brands get it. When the marketplace changes, and it always does, it’s critical to remain relevant and customer-focused. Innovation is essential, especially these days.
Which is what makes me particularly baffled by the recent experience I had with Delta. Besides DC, I book at least another 5-6 trips annually; double that if you count travel by car. Recently, I bought round-trip air tickets on the Delta.com Website for the upcoming July 4th weekend. Only three days later, the fare was reduced by $100 total. On Orbitz and countless travel sites, for some time now, they guarantee your purchase at the lowest rate. They want to ensure you’re a satisfied customer; and they definitely want to provide a compelling reason for you to return and use their site again the next time you’re booking travel. It’s a pretty simple formula for creating brand loyalty. What part of it does Delta not understand?
One might expect, as a customer, that you’d receive better treatment and select benefits by booking directly via a company’s Website over an aggregator site intended to sort and compare competing travel offers and rates by emphasizing lowest fees. It’s a market opportunity for airline brands to differentiate themselves and offer consumers advantages for choosing their brand over other options. Jet Blue gets it. They actually charge a $15 fee for booking on a site other than theirs. They also charge nothing to have an existing ticket re-issued at a lower available fare.
And like Hertz, Jet Blue is an innovator. Their Jet Blue Promise Program is a policy that refunds flights or vacation packages in full to anyone whose been laid off recently since making travel plans. How’s that for counteracting the “uncertain” for those unfortunate enough to experience difficulty during these uncertain times. You can call it recession marketing, as some have. Or, I prefer to attribute it to Jet Blue’s exceptional customer focus, which has always been core to its brand experience.
Despite the economic downturn, I’m planning to keep up my aggressive travel and flight schedule. I figure I’m a catch, and a keeper, by anyone’s standards for customers these days. I think I’ll pass on Delta from now on. Jet Blue…or anyone else, are you listening?