Segmented pricing and extra-cost amenity bundles are all the current rage among airline marketers. To compete with the likes of Spirit and Frontier, the full-service carriers are expanding their pricing schemes to include their own bare fares—super-low fares for no-frills transportation. And for those willing to pay extra to upgrade their coach-class trips, there are amenity packages such as United’s Premier Access, which give travelers priority check in and boarding, and expedited security clearing, and the carrier’s Travel Options packages, which add extra perks to Economy Plus seating.
At the other end of the airline spectrum, the discount carriers are adding perks to attract more travelers who might otherwise have flown with American, Delta, or United. Frontier, for example, a Spirit-like ultra-low-cost airline, now offers The Works, a bundle of extras (preferred seating, priority boarding, fee-free carry on bag, free checked bag, change flexibility) available for a surcharge starting at $49.
A product at every price point, for every person.
The latest airline to introduce a more nuanced pricing scheme is Dublin-based Ryanair, the discount carrier both loved and loathed for its cut-rate fares and bare-bones service.
Beginning this week, Ryanair customers can choose to upgrade their travel experience by booking Leisure Plus, an extra-cost add-on package that entitles travelers to priority boarding, a pre-assigned seat, and a free checked bag.
In a random series of test bookings, the premium for Leisure Plus hovered around $50 each way. A London-Frankfurt flight in late June, for instance, priced out at $71.64 for Ryanair’s so-called Regular base fare, and $118.43 for Leisure Plus, a surcharge of $46.79. On the return, the Regular fare was $62.59 but $114.98 for Leisure Plus, a $52.39 surcharge.
If that seems like a high price to pay for such modest perks, Ryanair’s Business Plus amenities package is even more of a stretch. Designed to appeal to the 25 percent of its flyers Ryanair estimates to be traveling for business, Business Plus includes priority boarding, premium seating, expedited security clearance, flexible ticket changes, and free airport check in.
The surcharge for those perks? For that London-Frankfurt flight, the Regular price increases from $71.64 to $211.52 for Business Plus on the outbound, and from $62.59 to $211.52 on the return.
Once again, the package’s extra cost comes close to outstripping its actual value.
As airlines typically do in promoting such amenity bundles, Ryanair can claim that the package price is cheaper than buying the extra perks a-la-carte. But flyers would have to use all the packaged extras to get full value from the bundles, and they rarely do.
Segmented pricing and extra-service bundles can be a plus for consumers, allowing them to fine-tune their travel purchases and get more for their travel dollars. But the plethora of options also makes it all too easy to overspend.
Ryanair is a discount carrier, to be sure. But discount carriers aren’t always bargain carriers.
Reader Reality Check
Have you gotten good value from the airlines’ extra-perks packages?
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After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.