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The Gamification of Air Travel

by Dan Robles on June 23, 2011

Commercial airlines continue to astonish the traveling public with an ever-increasing array of new ways to charge extra fees.  The newest scheme is to charge 5 dollars to have a customer service agent print your boarding pass.  You can get around this by using your own printer, or using a free kiosk – which undoubtedly will not be free for long.

Your schedule or theirs?

Meanwhile, the different prices that people pay for the same trip continues to fluctuate wildly. There are very few products whose price defies supply and demand or actually increases as it approaches it’s expiration date.

People who book 4-6 weeks in advance have the highest probability of getting the lowest fair – as long as the don’t buy the ticket on a weekend.  Buying a ticket on a Tuesday morning 4 weeks in advance can yield a 50% discount of the person who bought their ticket 2 weeks in advance on a Saturday afternoon.

Obviously, there must be some net average cost for a seat, per mile traveled with all services restored, so why can’t we save the drama and loss of productivity and use the average price? An “average revenue per seat mile” price is good enough for Wall Street Annual Report – why not the rest of us?. Another nagging question: why can’t I use frequent flier miles to buy lunch on the plane or carry extra suitcase?  What, they don’t accept their own currency…?!?!

Are You Gamed by FlyVille?

The airline industry has been gamified and people are hard wired to play along – of course they complain, but they also learn to behave in a manner that they perceive to be in their own best interest, but actually is in the Airline’s best interest.  Tacit collusion among airlines can now play out using frequent flier miles, copycat fares, and lowered customer expectations.  How much time do people spend playing this game?

This is also the environment where a competitor can emerge with a  “counter-game”.

Social Flights was launched a few months ago with a very simple data landscape; a means and manner in which people can meet to ride share on private aircraft.  Currently, the amount of time required for a social flights customer to execute a flight plan – that is, organize people in their community with shared flight intentions – may still be greater than the time and harassment of just going through the flow of the commercial airline abyss.   Over time, however, this will change.

Frequent Influence Miles

Suppose that Social Flights deployed frequent flier miles?  Suppose these could be awarded for organizing a social flight plan to a social network?  Suppose miles could be redeemed for discounts on hotels, car rentals, and ground services (think AAA)? Restaurants, entertainment and events routinely pay commissions to concierge referrals, why wouldn’t they also redeem Social Flights Flier Miles in the same manner?

What if Social Flights frequent flier miles could be earned and redeemed without actually flying, but by simply organizing communities until your perfect trip comes along?  What if a person with high Social Flights Frequent Flier Miles represented a better social influence predictor than say, a Klout score or Twitter follower count?  Would vendors want to know who these magical people are?  Will vendors compensate them for their influence in a community?  Wouldn’t the community then define the ads that get pitched?

What’s the end game? Let’s transform the industry together.  Seeking game designers to build the next generation of air travel

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