Share Like Buy 2015: How Spirit Airlines Is Winning With Millennials

Posted by: Adam Van Paris

At ShareLikeBuy on September 29-30th, we will bring together some of the best and brightest when it comes to Marketing to Millennials™. Spirit Airlines is a major travel brand that is approaching the millennial audience in a completely different way than any other airline brand has in the past…and it’s working. How did Spirit’s embrace of the hate turn into millennial love? Paul Berry, Director of Communications, Advertising and Brand for Spirit Airlines, will share his views at ShareLikeBuy on September 29th. Here is a sneak peak of what is in store.

AVP: How, in your opinion, is the travel industry different now than it was 20 years ago?

PB: In the airline space there are certainly a lot more options.  Twenty years ago every airline was essentially the same, with the exception of Southwest that didn’t provide meals or seat assignments. Today, there are many more options ranging from expensive luxurious with every possible creature comfort to low cost options where the tradeoff is fewer creature comforts.

AVP: What are some questions you’ve had to solve for in this changing industry?

PB: It’s mainly helping people understand that when they fly on most airlines they are paying a lot of money for things that they don’t want or need and, in many cases, don’t use.  Many airlines have done a good job of convincing consumers the in-flight amenities are free, but if they really knew how much they were paying for those “free” items, most consumers would be furious.

Admittedly it has been difficult and frustrating trying to convince consumers that paying $65 for a plane ticket, $35 for a carryon (total price $100), and bringing their own food and drinks on board is a much better proposition that paying $150 for the same flight, that comes with all the “free” stuff. But the good news is that our marketing and PR campaigns over the last year and a half have really gone a long way in helping people, especially budget conscious millennials, understand this new way of flying.  We’re seeing a lot fewer first time fliers surprised at our business model and an increase in return customers.

AVP: What are some major strategies Spirit is implementing to keep pace with travel-mined millennials?

PB: We know millennials love Spirit because it gives them the opportunity to travel to really cool destinations like the Caribbean, Latin America, and fun U.S. destinations like LA and New York for very little money.  Millennials love to travel but don’t prioritize the amenities they might get on a flight over the experiences they have at their destination.

We’ve seen the studies that say millennials demand Wifi and booking with mobile, and will only patronize companies that have great Yelp ratings.  We don’t necessarily see that playing out. At Spirit our planes  don’t have Wifi and we don’t have a mobile option for booking and you won’t find many positive comments about Spirit on Yelp.  But what is true about millennials is also true about most demos – their actions are often different than what they say.

Yes, millennials prefer Wifi and mobile access, but when they see that they can fly to Cancun for $89, suddenly Wifi and mobile isn’t an issue. We’re certainly looking at a way for people to book and manage flights via mobile, and we may offer mobile in the future.  But those things requires a very expensive investment to implement.  Expensive investments raise airfares – which is the last thing we want to do. So when we can offer those items without raising fares, we’ll do it.

AVP: What tendencies have lead millennials to develop such an affinity for travel?

PB: Millennials have grown up in a world where travel is easier, more accessible and relatively cheaper than it was for previous generations and they are taking advantage of that.  They tend to spend more money on their trips than other demographics, but they don’t want to spend a large chunk of their travel budget on “getting there”.  That’s why we’re confident that as long as Spirit offers the lowest fares and gives millennials options that allow them to travel as cheaply as possible, we’ll be the airline of choice for millennials.

AVP: How would you describe your vision for the future of travel?

PB: In the airline sector I think you’ll see fewer first class cabins and luxury offerings, and more low-cost options.  Luxury air travel will still be available, but it will trend more to private charter air travel.  I think consumers will see air travel as more of an “intermediate good” that allows people to get to their destination, rather than a “consumer good” like a cruise, which is purchased for the experience. As a result, people will demand fares for the intermediate good to be low, because they are paying more for great experiences when they get to where they are going.

We’re already starting to see airlines implementing similar practices to what Spirit is already doing by charging separately for checked bags, and seat assignments, and putting more seats on the plane. However, we haven’t seen them lower their fares as a result, like Spirit has. But it’s clear they are looking for ways to cut their costs so they don’t have to increase their fares to a point where the typical millennial traveler will turn away.


About Adam Van Paris

A question that all brands need to be asking themselves is, “How can we be better today than we were yesterday?” As Assistant Brand Manager and Content Curator at FutureCast, Adam challenges his clients to...See Adam's full bio.