The Problem with Unbundled Air Fares

Normally I would welcome a move like the recent one by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) that allows airlines to decrease baggage limit and allows them to charge for seat allocation. While I’m a fan of checking in early and getting in a seat towards the front of the flight (I usually don’t carry much luggage on my business trips), under normal circumstances I wouldn’t mind the extra charge as I would believe it would be offset by a corresponding decrease in the base fare.

However, I have a problem. I don’t pay for most of my flights – I charge them to my client. And this is true of all business travelers – who charge it to either their own or to some other company. And when you want to charge your air fare to someone else, one nice bundled fare makes sense. For example (especially since I charge my flights to my client) I would be embarrassed to add line items in my invoice to ask for reimbursements of the Rs. 200 I paid for an aisle seat, or the Rs. 160 I paid for the sandwich. A nice bundled fare would spare me of all such embarrassment.

Which probably explains why most airlines that primarily depend on business travelers for their business don’t unbundle their fares – that their baggage allocations remain high, that they give free food on board and they don’t charge you extra for lounge access (instead using your loyalty tier to give that to you). Business travelers, as I explained above, don’t like unbundled fares.

Which makes it intriguing that Jet Airways, which prides itself as being a “full service carrier” has decided to cut baggage limits and charge for seat allocation (they continue to not charge for food, though). Perhaps they have recognized that a large number of business travelers have already migrated to the so-called low-cost Indigo (it’s impossible for Indigo to have a 30% market share if they don’t get any business travelers at all), because of which Indian business travelers may not actually mind the unbundling.

Currently, Indigo flights have a “corporate program”, where the price of your sandwich and drink is bundled into the price of the ticket. I normally book my tickets on Cleartrip, so have never been eligible for this, but I can see why this program is popular – it prevents corporates from adding petty line items such as sandwiches to their invoices. On a similar note, I predict that soon all airlines will have a “corporate program” where the price of the allocated seat and a certain amount of baggage (over and above the standard 15kg) will be ┬ábundled into the base price of the ticket. Now that I charge my flights to a client, I hope this happens soon.