CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Saturday-night stay requirements for airline passengers seemed to die an unlamented death three years ago, but now, they're back.
Airlines view the Saturday-night stay rule a method to segregate leisure travelers from business travelers, who are willing to pay more to travel because their work demands it.
For passengers, however, the requirement is "exhibit A in how to turn off your best customers," says Kevin Mitchell, chairman of the Business Travel Coalition. "This and some other onerous charges are what got carriers in trouble with corporate travelers in the past," he says. "Hopefully, it's a short-term act of desperation."The Saturday-night stay largely disappeared in January 2005 when Delta, facing intense competition from low-fare carriers, announced an initiative called SimpleFares, which reduced the highest business fares, eliminated Saturday-night stays and limited the number of available fares on each flight. After AMR's (AMR) American followed, the rest of the industry joined in. The shift altered decades-old pricing patterns, helping to trigger an increase in the number of airline passengers, as the industry moved to a new model of fuller planes and lower fares. Between 2004 and 2007, the number of U.S. airline passengers rose from 703 million to 765 million, according to the Air Transport Association. But last week, Continental President Jeff Smisek said the carrier had reinstated Saturday-night stay mandates in certain markets in an effort to maximize revenue. "We are taking actions to appropriately segment business and leisure travelers," he said. "We've been able to do this without any falloff in demand." The change came in selected routes from New York and Houston, said Executive Vice President Jim Compton, who noted that in some cases Continental has also imposed three-day minimum stays in return for offering a low fare. At Delta, "we've tried to keep the fares as flexible as possible