141-You Mean I Have to Pay for This?

Those of us who fly a lot have noticed how few people have a meal on an airplane anymore. In-flight food was attractive when we got it for free, much less so when we have to pay for it.

The WiFi industry is learning a similar lesson. A couple of WiFi suppliers to the airline industry are trying to figure out how to charge for their services. (The WiFi suppliers control the pricing so that the airlines cannot give it away, as they have tended to do in the past with other benefits…though that trend certainly has ended.) The WiFi suppliers have found that when the service is free, many customers use it. But when they charge for the service, even at the low price of $1.00, usage drops off drastically.

The companies are trying price schemes that are tied to the length of the trip. One plan charges $12.95 for the service when the flight lasts longer than three hours and $9.95 for flights from ninety minutes to three hours. If the flight is shorter than ninety minutes, the price is $5.95.

The WiFi sellers need about 10% of travelers to pay for internet access in order for the service to be profitable. That will be difficult. A few flights have seen usage in the 12% to 15% range, but they tend to be on longer flights. A large percentage of U.S. domestic flights last less than two hours.

The WiFi suppliers, though, are coming up with a different approach to pricing that is much more likely to succeed. One approach will be to sell packages of service. A business traveler might buy a package of five flights for a fixed price. Once the price has been paid and is out of the customer’s mind, it is more likely that the service will appear attractive while the traveler is on the airplane. In addition, it should be much cheaper to sell a package of five, ten or fifteen flights than it is to sell one unit of service on each flight. In another approach, the WiFi companies are planning to negotiate directly with companies to sell their services in bulk to the companies for use by their employees. This approach has even better cost savings than the package sales. It is a much more efficient way to go. Both of these approaches change the price by altering the basis of the charge for a unit of sale.

Posted 10/1/09


As often happens in 2020s airline industry, the product offering and basis for pricing are varied.  There are several companies offering Wi-Fi service to the airlines. Then, each airline chooses the price and basis for charge for the Wi-Fi service it provides. The more expensive services are priced on the basis of time. The less expensive services are priced on the basis of the flight. As usual, Southwest Airlines is the least expensive for its Wi-Fi customers.

Here is a sample of some of the charges for Wi-Fi on Delta, United Airlines and Southwest Airlines:

-Delta offers a prepaid pass for the North American market, good for 24 hours of continuous use across multiple North American Wi-Fi equipped flights. There is a similar global prepaid pass. A North American monthly pass is $49.95 for unlimited use on North American flights. The equivalent global monthly pass is $69.95. Delta offers a North America annual pass for $599.99.

-United Airlines sells and onboard pass good for the duration of the flight for prices ranging from five dollars to $20. It offers a pre-purchased one hour pass for seven dollars. A pre-purchased 24 hour pass costs $19. United’s North American and global monthly passes parallel those of Delta at $49 for a monthly North American pass and $69 for a global monthly pass. United offers a North American annual pass for $539 and a global annual pass for $689.

-Southwest offers the lowest prices with a flat fee of eight dollars per day for Wi-Fi access across multiple flights if required. The service is free for Southwest’s A – List Preferred Members.

By 2022, the airline industry had learned to make the trip price a commodity for most locations in the US. In our terms, they have followed the four key rules of pricing in hostility. See HERE. Instead, the airline competitors have come to rely on fees on ancillary products to increase the margins on their flights. That has succeeded well in producing better profits. Still, it is a dangerous game if customers decide that Southwest Airlines is simply more likely to give them a better price/cost all in over the customer cost system. See HERE.




If you face a competitive marketplace, read these blogs. We wrote them to help you make better decisions on segments, products, prices and costs based on the experience of companies in over 85 competitive industries. Much of the world suffered a severe recession from 2008 to 2011. During that time, we wrote more than 270 blogs using publicly available information and our Strategystreet system to project what would happen in various companies and industries who were living in those hostile environments. In 2022, we updated each of these blogs to describe what later took place. You can use these updated blogs to see how the Strategystreet system works and how it can lead you to better decisions.