A little fine print to boost tourism

Buried within the super-fine-print fare rules for any United Airlines domestic airfare purchase is this condition:

“STOPOVERS WITHIN CONTIGUOUS U.S.A. 2 STOPOVERS PERMITTED – 1 IN EACH DIRECTION IN DEN AT USD 55.81 EACH. NOTE – NOT VALID ON NONSTOP ROUTINGS OR ROUTINGS THAT DO NOT HAVE DEN AS AN INTERMEDIATE POINT.”

This essentially allows anyone traveling cross-country to visit Denver for $60 ($55.81+taxes); here’s how it works in real life. It’s there because Denver mayor John Hickenlooper asked for it — he figured that if some of the millions of passengers who connect through DEN annually might want to spend a few days in town. And I know that I’ve booked several of these stopovers, and paid a premium to United for that privilege.

I mention this since, well, United Airlines owes the city of Chicago more than a few favors — we, or rather our TIF districts, have just been so darn generous to them lately. Sure, I know that Mayor Daley would like to cash in those favors to get the O’Hare Modernization Program (and its scads of jobs) done. Yet here’s an easy ask: just add “OR ORD” twice into the above phrase, and a few of the 30 million United passengers who flow through ORD every year might find themselves heading into town to spend cash at Chicago’s amazing restaurants, hotels, and shops. (And since airlines are highly competitive, American and Southwest just might be compelled to match — doubling the potential audience.) I know that friends of mine “wish” they could easily stop by and go out for a drink in town rather than wait around ORD, but right now it isn’t possible without “breaking the fare.” Just adding ten letters could fix that. (Of course, it’d be even better if it could also apply to international itineraries.)

As for advertising such a program, Chicago-based Orbitz might be able to find a way to target the intended audience (i.e., people searching for flights that might connect through Chicago) right at the moment of purchase. The city also ultimately controls a lot of advertising opportunities at the airports themselves — that is, until the airports are privatized.

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4 thoughts on “A little fine print to boost tourism

  1. I wonder though if Denver is paying for the benefit. Lots of ski towns, for example, guarantee a certain revenue amount to the airlines to get them to fly there. If they don’t book up, the town is on the hook to make up the differenc.

  2. I doubt that Denver is offering much in the way of subsidies; those subsidies generally target origin/destination traffic rather than connections. (Rockford had an interesting idea a few years ago: instead of paying subsidies to United, they wrote the checks to passengers who flew from the airport. I got a pretty fun weekend trip courtesy of their airport.)

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