Last week I noted that Frontier Airlines is getting rid of its 800 number and should save $2 million a year.
As I wrote at the time, this seems totally reasonable to me. When is the last time you paid for domestic long distance? (I haven’t even had a home land line in ~ 15 years.)
He notes that Spirit and Fronter
have gone a sleezier route. They’ve chosen the Utah area code of 801, which is suspiciously close to an 800 number.
I think this takes things in the wrong direction.
Changing from 800 numbers to cheaper local numbers (where airlines aren’t paying for all of the inbound calls) could be a perception win, not a way to look cheap.
Of course it’s silly to pay for inbound calls that nearly all of your callers would be getting for free. And if Frontier will be saving $2 million per year then American, Delta, and United’s savings would be huge. It’s low hanging fruit and money that would be better spent re-invested in product or returned to shareholders.
But even if booked straight to the bottom line it doesn’t have to be a perception problem. An airline could get a few local numbers. Delta could get a 212 number and advertise it in New York, “your hometown airline.” (After all, Newark ain’t 212).
Delta, United, and American should race to get and advertise a local number for Los Angeles too. The first one to do it wins market share in LA. American or United could do that in Chicago.
Where there’s a competitive hub it may make sense. Where there’s a monopoly hub, too — Delta should advertise its Atlanta number.
What’s more, airlines could promote this by cutting their telephone booking fee in half for a limited time when using their local number. Don’t get rid of the 800 number right away, just advertise and highlight the local alternate until you shift customer behavior. Promote it as a service to their local community. And donate 800 number savings to charities in those communities for a year.
After the transition period, people will forget that they no longer have an 800 number that they didn’t need anyway. It doesn’t have to look cheap, and customers will get used to it.