American Airlines offers free flights to fend off JetBlue

American Airlines was faced with a problem in mid-2003 when JetBlue, a discount airline, announced plans to begin service from Boston to select areas in Florida and California.

American Airlines was faced with a problem in mid-2003 when JetBlue, a discount airline, announced plans to begin service from Boston to select areas in Florida and California.

Boston was one of American's largest markets, and the company needed a plan to counteract the discounts that JetBlue offered and to emphasize the value of flying with one of the largest carriers in the world.

American also realized that Boston and New York were likely filled with consumers looking to travel south for the winter. This began American's "Fly Two, Fly Free" campaign, which offered customers a free round-trip ticket to anywhere American flies after booking two round-trip flights between Boston or New York and Florida or California.

Strategy

"We knew we had to do something that would be a big media event, and we needed to remind customers of the advantages that American offers," says Neil Nowlin, director at Weber Shandwick, which has worked with American Airlines off and on for the past 15 years. "We had to capitalize on our strengths and highlight the negatives of the competition."

With a new competitor coming into the Boston market, reinforcing customer loyalty was crucial. "This was a very generous offer, and we knew that people would react positively," says Stephen Schlachter, director of worldwide advertising at American. "We're always looking for opportunities to create excitement in the marketplace."

Tactics

American Airlines and Weber Shandwick began by researching factors that could be compared between the two airlines, such as service and options. After creating the campaign, the team decided to announce the new program on January 7, 2004 - the same day that JetBlue launched service from Boston.

"We wanted to invade the market," notes Nowlin. Local print and broadcast media were targeted, as well as wire services and national publications, such as USA Today and The Wall Street Journal. "The television hits in New York and Boston got the word out quickly," adds Schlachter.

The promotion was only open to AAdvantage members, and registration for this program was offered online, over the phone, or at airport event sites. "In Boston, there was a visual reminder with beach scenes, complete with sand and actors in bathing suits," says Nowlin. These were set up in the airports to remind customers of traveling to sunny destinations like Florida and California.

There were three major media pushes throughout the campaign: one to launch it, one reporting its success in the middle of the promotion, and a reminder push during the last two weeks.

Results

"The client was immediately pleased with the coverage on the day of the launch. Within 36 hours, we had broadcast and print coverage in 24 regional markets," explains Nowlin.

Almost 200,000 customers registered for the promotion, and 7,500 certificates were earned for the free ticket. Also, 25,000 new AAdvantage members were signed up as a result of the offering, increasing future marketing opportunities for American.

Announcing its promotion on the same day as JetBlue's launch gave American even more coverage. News about American's promotion was featured in 90% of media coverage for JetBlue's launch in Boston.

Overall, the promotion was a huge success for American Airlines. "Thirty million dollars were received in incremental revenue," says Nowlin. American was pleased with the work of Weber Shandwick, as well. "Most of it was done in less than a month over the holidays, which is never easy, but it came off flawlessly," explains Schlachter.

Future

"The client was very pleased with the results of the campaign, both immediately and in the long term," Nowlin says, "We will definitely be working together in the future."

PR team: American Airlines (Fort Worth, TX) and Weber Shandwick (Irving, TX), with Momentum Worldwide (St. Louis)

Campaign: Fly Two, Fly Free

Time frame: January 7 to April 15, 2004

Budget: $60,000

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