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Airlines are indeed missing out on marketing opportunities by relegating their merchandising to the time of booking or a couple of days before the flight. If they want to market to flyers during the flight, they need to strike the right balance and avoid being bombastic.

Airlines know that their customers are most receptive to special offers when they book a flight and then within a couple of days before the flight.

But few airlines are aggressively marketing to travelers when they are hanging out at the airport and during the flight, and a new report argues that carriers are leaving money on the table by neglecting these timeframes.

Thinking Like A Retailer: Airline Merchandising, a Frost & Sullivan report commissioned by Amadeus, argues that airlines should merchandise to travelers when before they arrive at the airport with things like restaurant vouchers, and when passengers are onboard their flights the airlines can offer in-flight connectivity discounts.

“With mobile, airlines can reach out to travellers with relevant and timely offers,” the report states. “The best services offered during these stages are lower-priced services providing immediate rewards. Some examples include offering restaurant vouchers just before travellers arrive at the airport, or offering flight-based services such as inflight connectivity.”

The following chart shows when flyers are the most and least receptive to special offers, according to the report.

Screen Shot 2014-06-05 at 1.06.43 PM

Source: Frost & Sullivan/Amadeus

The only problem with hitting up passengers with when they are essentially a captive audience — and this is not discussed in the report — is that airlines risk a backlash from passengers who may just wish to go about their business onboard without being bombarded with commercial offers.

“To maximise their merchandising potential, airlines must offer services throughout the customer journey, effectively employing the mobile channel,” the report argues. “If an airline can do this, it becomes more than just a commodity flight provider. It becomes a brand differentiated service provider, offering positive experiences and adding real value.”

Another neglected part of the journey is post-flight, as the above chart shows. Unlike online travel agencies and hotels, which often send feedback emails after a trip or stay, many airlines aren’t doing a particularly good job of connecting with their customers soon after the flight ends.

Following is an infographic depicting some of the report’s other findings:

Download (PDF, 687KB)

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Tags: merchandising, mobile

Photo credit: Airlines are being urged to send special offers to their customers when they are hanging around at the airport or during flights. Pictured, a woman looking at her phone in an airport terminal in Hong Kong. Getty Images

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