Airlines Having Fun With Promotions

Between the frustration of baggage fees and delayed flights, airlines are trying to bring a more entertaining atmosphere to their operations. From the humorous to the attention grabbing, airlines are designing their promotions with customers and publicity in mind.

Merger sale
As the outcome of the merger between US Airways (NYSE: LCC  ) and American Airlines parent company AMR (UNKNOWN: AAMRQ.DL  ) remained uncertain, JetBlue Airways (NASDAQ: JBLU  ) weighed in on the debate. Back in September, JetBlue CEO Dave Barger argued that the new American Airlines Group should have no more than 55% of the slots at the Washington National Airport. Just before the settlement was announced, JetBlue launched a fare sale offering flights for $55 each way for certain routes involving the airport. How much passengers understood the jab at US Airways and American Airlines remains unknown, but JetBlue does look set to come out ahead in this merger settlement.

The merging airlines will have to divest 52 slot pairs at the airport, and the Department of Justice's pattern of having slots go to low-cost airlines puts JetBlue in an excellent position to grow its network. The market seemed to like JetBlue's prospects from the settlement, rendering the airline one of the top performers on the day of the announcement.

Radical ideas (once per year)
Canadian airline WestJet Airlines (TSX: WJA  ) put out an interesting press release video in early April of this year. As part of the airline's new "furry family" program, the video announced an easing of WestJet's pet restriction policy to allow virtually any animal on flights.

Before you freak out about getting mauled by a bear on a WestJet flight, it's important to note this is one of WestJet's annual April Fools' Day pranks. Previous pranks have included such ideas as kid-free cabins, achieved by placing children in the cargo part of the aircraft, and cabins filled with helium to reduce weight and cut fuel consumption.

While these ideas are not being implemented on WestJet flights, the annual WestJet April Fools' Day prank does grab some media attention. For the minimal costs of producing the videos, WestJet gets a whole bunch of publicity on an annual basis. Not a bad deal.

Spirited satire
Ultra-discount airline Spirit Airlines (NASDAQ: SAVE  ) has a varied reputation, known for the cheapest flights in the industry -- putting those who could not otherwise afford to fly into the air -- and for fee-gouging, knee-crunching skimping.

But as much as some people criticize Spirit Airlines, Spirit is ready to poke fun at public figures. The airline's latest ad takes aim at Toronto mayor and admitted crack user Rob Ford. The line for the latest ad is "We're not smoking crack... our fares REALLY are this low!" over top of a silhouette of a Rob Ford-esque man.

Although Spirit does not fly to Toronto Pearson International or Billy Bishop airports, this promotion relates to Spirit's service to Niagara Falls International on the American side of the border less than 100 miles from Toronto. For Toronto residents seeking low airfares, Spirit's ads and service could entice them to drive a little farther.

Like JetBlue and WestJet, Spirit is a frequent flyer with creative promotions. Past promotions have mocked Anthony Weiner and Mitt Romney. For an airline trying to build a brand, these promotions are a great way to grab attention without splurging on advertising.

Creative ideas
Like many consumer-oriented companies, airlines look for cheap, publicity-drawing funny sales and promotions. Investors should look for how promotions affect airlines in terms of market share and growth, and travelers can always look to take advantage of cheap airfares.

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