Every airline wants to ensure that they retain the exclusivity around Business and First Class travel and rightly so. However, on countless trips, they end up flying an empty business/first class, while they have oversold their economy class giving them the moniker of ‘cattle class’. The check-in desk then has to make the difficult decision on who they can upgrade. Their selection criteria can be very arbitrary ranging from ‘are you a gold customer’ to ‘how smartly are you dressed’. From a customer experience point of view, every time I get a complimentary upgrade, I want to fly the same airlines more often. I think they like me.

I travel between London and Mumbai for work as well as personal reasons, and over the past few years I have stuck to one airline. I even had a co-branded credit card from them. When I was not using up my precious points to upgrade, they would give me a complimentary upgrade. Then suddenly it stopped. They had become a dominant market player and planes were full, so they stopped doing upgrades. Even though I was a gold tier, I got the excuses ranging from ‘the flight is full’ to ‘you are not on the list’. I can understand a full flight, but I still don’t understand how to make it to the list. I felt cheated as if ditched by a partner. Customer experience had been flushed down a toilet at 10,000 feet.
Enter Kingfisher Airlines. Touting to be India’s only Five Star Airline, I had to give it a try. So in true investigative spirit, I flew them on economy. I am not sure if I can say that it is any different from any other bog standard airline – except a clean aircraft + nice staff. Now it is the time for me to check out their business class. However, I am trying to see if they provide me with an upgrade, as a way to lure more ‘business type’ passengers away. This is yet to happen, but I am hoping the experience will be better than what I have seen on this sector so far.
Last week, while I booked another economy ticket from Mumbai to London, there was a link which claimed that you could book ‘business & first class tickets for 75% less’. This was a link on the Kingfisher website itself. I clicked through, which bought me to the website of Optiontown.com. On the Optiontown website, I can pay a small sign-up free (like £5) and a ‘Upgrade price’ (less than the usual price of ticket). If seats are available, Optiontown upgrades me at the price I paid it. If not upgraded, my Upgrade price is refunded! The airline gains by having not flown an empty seat and flying a more ‘deserving passenger’ (based on affordability rather than one’s choice of perfume). The passenger gains by having not paid the full price. Optiontown gets a service fee. It is a win-win for everyone. Currently Optiontown has partnered with Kingfisher, SAS and Air Canada. But I think this will increase and we are onto something here.
Even though I preferred to chance my luck to get a complimentary upgrade with Kingfisher rather than signing upto Optiontown, I think Optiontown has a great business idea. We might see it evolve into a bidding website or add more frills. The barriers to entry are medium – it requires partnership with airlines – but Optiontown has a first mover advantage in this space.
Every now and then, I come across a website or a business that makes me want to say Why didn’t I think of this before. Last year, it was Twitter. I blogged about it on our CTO blog, and the rest they say is history. Twitter has grown and now has changed many aspects of communication as we know it. I hope Optiontown.com disrupts the travel business in similar ways. It is also a great customer experience enhancer for Kingfisher. Looking forward to an upgrade, watch this space…