Monday, August 23, 2010

Anything For Publicity

Now we know. For the absolute best ticket prices, book your airline flights 8 weeks in advance, in the afternoon.

A couple of Japanese economists have concluded (via this wonderful formula... A = gUG + min(k - g, (1 - g)(1 - r) ...or some such nonsense) that the best price-window for ticket purchases is exactly 8 weeks ahead. In the afternoon. These folks must not travel all that much. Let's hope that no public funding (even Japanese public funding) went into this "research."

Aside from the useless junk science, there are far too many variables for this to have any significant validity. Furthermore, wanna bet that some airlines will try raising their prices 8 weeks and 1 day before the departure date? Just because of this study?

Anybody who pays any attention to this crap really needs to get a life.

Price Shopping vs. Value Shopping

Are you a Value shopper or a Price shopper?

A price shopper searches out the best price – no matter the circumstances. WalMart, Spirit Airlines, Dollar rental cars. Value shoppers look for the best value for their money – no matter who the vendor is (although many times there’s a loyalty value, too).

WalMart may have the best price, and also sometimes the best value, but then so might Tiffany’s. Hertz may be more expensive, but is quality customer service and a no-hassles experience worth Hertz’s higher prices?

A recent poll by travel writer Chris Elliott got us thinking. In his admittedly non-scientific survey, the top-rated rental car companies were Hertz, Avis, and National. At the bottom of the list were Dollar, Payless, and Enterprise.

Weirdly, in a recent J.D. Powers survey, Enterprise came out on top, followed by National and Hertz. The bottom three were Thrifty, Dollar, and Payless.

We’re not here to, really, discuss car rental companies, but we will say that we’ve never had a problem with Hertz. The one rental we’ve had with Enterprise was arranged through a friend/employee (so that may not be a fair comparison) and the experience was OK. And our experiences with Dollar have always left a lot to be desired. So for car rentals, we are definitely Value shoppers – we’ll go with Hertz whenever possible, even if the cost is a bit higher.

Likewise with airfare. We’ll gladly pay a bit more for a United Economy Plus seat, or for a Frontier fully-refundable ticket versus maybe saving a few dollars with Southwest.

But price shopping has a valid argument for many people. For some folks, the only way to fly, rent a car, or buy produce is to shop by price alone. If they can get a Dollar car rental that’s two-thirds the price of Hertz, they’ll take it and take their chances that Dollar won’t hit them with fake damage charges or screaming customer-service personnel.

The real challenge is discerning what is value. How can a consumer tell if Hertz is worth the higher price than Dollar? (Without extensive experience with various companies.) We’ve bought a few too many books and electronics and whatever on Amazon to trust even the detailed reviews. Recently we were tossing the mental coin over two art books from Amazon. Both had generally good reviews (we usually ignore the 5-star reviews, as well as the 1-star ones), and settled on one particular book. It was beyond terrible. We sent it back, and purchased our other option, which turned out to be excellent.

The web is full of self promotion, fake reviews, unknowledgeable consumers, opinions, and words and comments from intelligent as well as ignorant customers. Who can you trust?

Sadly, no one. We do our best; do the research; then still wind up with J.D. Power recommending Enterprise as their top car-rental company while Elliott puts it at the bottom of his list.

At some point, it comes down to who you trust. If my neighbor (who I like and whose opinion I trust) loves Southwest, that should weigh more heavily than any idiotic web survey. Likewise, I trust Chris Elliott and have no idea about J.D. Power, so despite my good (lucky?) experience with Enterprise, I think I’ll pass on them in the future and go with Hertz.

There’s a lot to be said for comfort and peace of mind. We are firmly in the value shopper camp. So for the record, some of our personal travel-related value preferences include:

Hertz car rentals
Hilton family of hotels
Frontier and Alaska airlines
American Express credit cards
Vodafone international prepaid cell-phone chips
ITA flight search engine
Amazon for travel products, electronics, and guidebooks

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Corporate Jargon – Who Said That?

As the 3 regular readers of this blog probably know, we hate jargon. Corporate America simply loves to say less with more. In a recent issue of Business Travel News we found some excellent examples of political/lawyer/PR/financial geek-speak.

In a sidebar to an article headlined, “Airlines Unlikely To Add Much Capacity,” were the following quotes from the CEOs of the “big 5” domestic airlines. See if you can match the quote with the speaker (listed most jargon-filled to least, with our added emphasis).

1. “I expect to continue this rigorous domestic capacity discipline as we look to optimize the merged carrier suite across the combined network.” 4-Star Jargon Award

2. “While some of our competitors have suggested increases in their forward guidance, we continue to believe that capacity constraint is essential for margin improvement.” 3-Star Jargon Award; Bonus “Huh?” Award

3. “Overall industry capacity should not grow faster than gross domestic product here in the U.S. or anywhere in the world, for that matter.” 2-Star Saying-Nothing Award

4. “By the end of 2010, our fleet will be 91 aircraft smaller, but we’ll be able to generate the same amount of revenue. We’ll continue this strategy in 2011 and reduce our fleet by another 20 aircraft.” 1-Star How-Can-That-Be? Award

5. “We’ve reduced our capacity and focused our flying on areas of competitive strength.” 1-Star What-Is-That? Award

a. American CEO Gerard Arpey

b. Continental CEO Jeff Smisek

c. Delta CEO Richard Anderson

d. United CEO Glenn Tilton

e. USAirways CEO Doug Parker

Answers: 1b, 2d, 3a, 4c, 5e