Feature Article - November/December 2011

Moving Right Along

Get Them Going With Luggage and Leather Goods

By Emily Tipping

"Emily Tipping?" said the woman behind the counter, as she connected another tag to a woman's suitcase.

"That's me!" I said, and we both looked down at the mess spread between me with my luggage and her at the counter with my checked-bag tags.

There in front of me lay the entire contents of two suitcases, a man frantically moving items from the luggage into his wife's purse and his backpack, as she argued with another employee that this was the fourth time they'd unpacked and repacked, and couldn't they just go next?

I tried to generate a sympathetic look as I hauled my bag onto the scale, took my tag and wandered over toward the X-ray machines, leaving the mess behind me.

The whole process, from the back of the line, through the bag check line, through the security queue and into the airport proper took a total of 45 minutes, and I reminded myself that this was why I preferred to arrive earlier, before the less-traveled crowds. Once at the gate, I watched as the airline attendants made every single passenger with a carry-on fit it into the thingamajig that measures carry-ons before they were allowed to bring it on the plane.

A month later, USA Today ran an article under the headline, "Airline Bag Fees as High as $450."

Keep reading that article, and you'll find that if you're checking an overweight bag weighing 71 to 100 pounds, American Airlines will charge you $450 on its Asian flights. (Such bags are not even allowed on flights to Europe and India.) Frequent flier wanting to book a free ticket on the phone or online? You'll have to cough up $25 if you're flying Continental. Want to change your flight on the day you're departing? That'll be $150 for the same domestic destination on American. Booking a round-trip ticket on the phone? It'll cost you $25 if you're on Continental or United. Want to be one of the first on the airplane (and let's face it, if you're carrying on, you want to be one of the first)? That'll be $10 if you're flying Southwest. Changing your ticket for a domestic flight? Plan to spend $150 if you're flying American, Continental, Delta, United or US Airways. And we're all familiar by now with the fees for checked bags. And the frantic couple at O'Hare bore witness to what happens if your suitcase comes in above the 50-pound limit. Even carry-on bags can come with fees these days ($30 to $40 on Spirit Airlines). Meals and snacks, headsets, pillows, blankets—things that all used to be gratis now come with fees.

If the initial years following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 brought us more airport headaches as we adapted to heightened security and longer lines, the past several years have taught us that the price of a ticket to ride the skies belies the true cost of flying.

In the first three months of this year, USA Today reported, U.S. airlines collected $1.38 billion in fees to check baggage and change reservations—$59 million more than in the first quarter of last year, and $1.1 billion more than during the same time period in 2007, which is when the fees first made their appearance.

"This is where they're making their money," said George Cassius, president of EarthGear Corp. "They're showing low fares, but all the additional fees are killing us."

Combined with the hoops you have to jump through at security, higher fees are adding to the stresses of travel. And because of this, consumers—and therefore, the participants in your incentive and rewards program—are looking for something more from their travel gear. In fact, according to the 2011 Consumer Luggage Report from Suitcase.com, consumers are responding with a lighter approach. "This means choosing luggage made with lightweight materials, packing lighter and taking advantage of features that lighten their stress loads surrounding heightened security measures and restrictions."

Luggage is a mature product category, which means it doesn't change a whole lot from one year to the next, according to Pete Mitchell, director of B-to-B sales for Samsonite. However, the heightened demand for lighter weights has had an effect on the product being brought to market. In light of this, the time has come to pay closer attention to the luggage you're employing to incent and reward your targets. A heavy bag with two wheels just won't pack the same punch that it used to.