A Note From the Editor in Chief: We're introducing a new section today called "The Good Life." One aspiration of being successful in any field, including investing and finance, is enjoying the finer things that life has to offer -- the ultimate vacation, a great new car, a truly fabulous bottle of wine, a lavish golf course -- at a price that won't break you.With "The Good Life," we'll give you specific suggestions of the finer things to enjoy and the places to shop to get them. In our debut columns, Aaron Task checks out the
|Low-Cost, High Quality |
Quality rankings show that the cheapest seats now offer the highest levels of service, with low-cost flyers atop the list
|5.||US Airways||US Airways|
|Source: National Institute for Aviation Research, Wichita State University|
The Death of $3,500 FaresWhile these moves have lowered overall fare pricing, a pair of low-cost carriers -- AirTran ( AAI) and America West ( AWA) -- have revolutionized the way first-class tickets are priced, bringing upscale to the masses. Over the last two years, both companies have drastically reduced the price of a first-class ticket, which could run into the thousands of dollars, to just a few hundred. On Feb. 17, America West launched "First Rate," its new first-class pricing initiative. Instead of paying more than $1,000 to fly first class from Miami to Las Vegas, people who buy the same flight on America West would pay $499 if they bought a week in advance and $699 at the last minute. "First, we thought the pricing of first-class fares relative to our everyday low fares in coach was out of whack. Second, we sold very few first-class fares when prices were high," said Scott Kirby, executive vice president of marketing at America West, noting the company has sold twice as many first-class fares over the last six weeks. "And third, we wanted to pick up market share from other airlines." In the months since America West announced the sale, first-class tickets have continued to plunge across the board, especially on transcontinental routes where low-cost carriers are adding flights. (Indeed, in April Continental Airlines ( CAL) followed America West's lead with a restricted first-class fare sale of its own.) Last year, the average price of a first-class ticket from New York to San Jose was $1,003, according to Harrell Associates, which tracks fares across the industry. This year, that same ticket was $203, 80% cheaper.
You Get Way More Than You Pay ForBut when you buy a cheap first-class ticket, are you getting a good experience? Absolutely. First class is still first class. While the days of real silverware and fine china in first class are gone in this era of terrorism, the amenities and perks are still there -- they're just cheaper from here on out. And with carriers like Northwest eliminating first-class cabins while JetBlue's coach product offers some first-class amenities and legroom, the lines have been blurring. Oftentimes, business (and even economy) class feels first class, too. Like many other carriers, America West's first class has leather seats that are 50% larger than in coach, with six extra inches of legroom. And the carrier's first-class service includes a bevy of complimentary goodies. Food in first class is free, but the offerings aren't the chintzy Brand X offerings flyers are used to. Travelers can opt for a breakfast box including brand-name products like Quaker breakfast bars and Nabisco Wheat Thins or wait to have a warm roast beef and Fontina cheese sandwich on a rustica roll for lunch. The entertainment options are robust. America West offers an array of recent films on flights, including Barbershop 2 and Mona Lisa Smile, along with sitcoms like Friends and Frasier. For those not in the mood for television at high altitudes, America West has an inflight magazine library with nearly 30 titles.
|Pay More, Complain More |
Southwest Airlines receives one complaint from every million passengers it flies, a record, and much less than traditional carriers
|Airline||Passenger Complaints *|
|* Per 100,000 Source: Department of Transportation|