Using Social Media to Charter a Plane? Virgin America says OK!

I like clothes.

And I like social media.

So it’s no wonder that I’ve been a member of Gilt Groupe, which offers “luxury” goods online at lower margins, with the aim to make up the discount with volume sold. I was quite shocked to open my latest set of offers, however, and see one from Virgin America proudly catching my eye. While they have been known to do things a bit differently since launching a few years ago, and I do quite like my “@VirginAmerica” t-shirt that their social media guy Nick gave me, I didn’t see them going into fashion seriously.

That’s because they aren’t, rest assured. Instead, Virgin was offering quite a different type of product through Gilt Groupe: aircraft charters.

For a modest fee of $60,000 all-inclusive, Virgin will be offering the public an opportunity to fill a 146-seat Airbus 320 on any domestic round-trip route they fly, along with naming rights to the aircraft.

In case you’re counting, that comes out to about $411 per seat, eight of which are First Class with 138 Economy, which is quite modest for a group that could actually fill the plane. Doing a random fare search between San Francisco and New York a few months out, for example, the absolute cheapest fares I found were $280 round-trip, with low-end fares in the $400 range for peak times. Of course, the high-end fares go well over $1,000.

This is an interesting ancillary revenue strategy, but certainly makes me wonder what it says about Virgin’s confidence in their own load factors to make such an offer, as well as their capacity to deliver the aircraft depending how many groups take them up on the offer. Is Virgin having trouble securing landing rights at places they want to expand to? How else could they anticipate having A320’s sitting around idle to provide charter aircraft for bachelor party weekends or corporate outings?

I’m curious to hear your thoughts, as it is certainly a unique kind of offer in today’s airline industry. If the aircraft is available, why not, as it could generate a buzz and motivate group buying to the tune of 146 seats. I’d rather they save the aircraft naming for separate social contests, however, as those can be very engaging and I doubt the naming rights would be a deal maker or breaker for this kind of charter.

Displayed Proudly in my latest Gilt Groupe e-mail...

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Customer Engagement Strategy for the Airline Industry