By Ed Perkins, Tribune Content Agency
It’s been a long time since we saw a robust startup airline in our region, a void that NewLeaf Travel is filling–in Canada. And it’s working with another Canadian company, Jump On Flyaways, to introduce a new bidding system that might rival Priceline‘s well-tested approach.
NewLeaf, isn’t an airline as such; it’s a marketing company that hires out a charter airline, Flair Airlines, to do the actual flying. That’s not unique; quite a few startup airlines begin by having charter lines fly their planes.
NewLeaf’s business plan is sort of an amalgamation of Allegiant and Spirit. It intends to be ultralow-fare, per Spirit, and fly less than daily to underserved airports, per Allegiant. Base fares are low, but you pay extra for just about everything. Its base of operations is Winnipeg, and flights serve a mixture of popular and secondary airports:
- Flights to Edmonton, Halifax, Moncton, Regina, Saskatoon and Victoria use the regular airports.
- It serves Vancouver through Abbotsford and Toronto through Hamilton.
- Other underserved airports include Kamloops and Kelowna.
NewLeaf is planning to add “sun” destinations, and it may also try some transborder routes. And the incumbent lines are already jumping on NewLeaf with their own services to Abbotsford and Hamilton.
One of NewLeaf’s most interesting innovations is use of Jump On Flyaways’ bidding program. If you’re looking for a low fare, you start by entering a bid on a route and a date. Following your initial entry, you can monitor the process of your bid and increase it if you think a bit more will improve your odds. Bids close 48 hours before departure. Jump On passes all bids along to the participating airline, which decides which, if any, to accept. If the airline accepts your bid, it charges your credit or debit card and issues you a ticket.
- This bidding system differs from the Priceline approach in several ways. With Priceline, you’re bidding blind, and must agree to fly on whatever airline, and on whatever schedule, Priceline has arranged. But once Priceline accepts your bid, usually within an hour or so, you know you have a firm reservation.
- With Jump On, you know the airline and schedule you’re trying to get; you just don’t know whether your bid is successful until two days before departure.
Which system is the riskier? That’s hard to say: Not knowing airline or schedule before you buy is a deal-breaker for some travelers; not knowing whether or not you get a flight is a deal-breaker for others. So far, as far as I can tell, NewLeaf is Jump On’s only partner. But if the idea takes hold, you can expect other airlines to get interested quickly.
Last-minute filling of unsold seats has been a knotty problem for airlines for decades. On the one hand, airlines want to keep prices high for business travelers, and that means keeping prices high for last-minute tickets, because business travelers typically book later than leisure travelers. That’s why the only really successful application of “cheap standby” tickets–for a time–was Sir Freddy Laker’s Skytrain, which was focused completely on leisure travelers.
Both Priceline and Jump On help solve that problem, because their approaches are sufficiently uncertain to discourage business travelers almost completely. But leisure travelers apparently don’t like those uncertainties, either: Priceline has made a much smaller dent in the airline marketplace than for hotels and rental cars. The industry–and consumers–will be eager to see how Jump On fares.
The most interesting other airline news is that, despite the ongoing delays in US approval for its Irish plans, Norwegian keeps on adding new low-fare transatlantic routes as it adds airplanes. The latest are nonstops to Paris/De Gaulle from New York/JFK, four times weekly, and twice weekly from Los Angeles. Norwegian posts its usual very low economy fares and competitive fares for its above-average premium economy service.
(Send e-mail to Ed Perkins at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, check out Ed’s new rail travel website at rail-guru.com.)
(c) 2016 TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC. — Tribune Content Agency — August 1, 2016
Ed Perkins is a nationally syndicated travel columnist, with weekly columns appearing in three dozen U.S. newspapers. He was founding editor of Consumer Reports Travel Letter and has written for Business Traveller (London), Arthur Frommer’s Budget Travel, The New Yorker, and National Geographic Traveler.