Swoop is turning discounts into travel demand

From the C-Suite newsletter: The low-cost carrier has been selling off inventory in a way that adds urgency to recovery.
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By Will Novosedlik

According to travel data company Cirium, 48 airlines failed in 2020. In April, McKinsey shared its prognosis for the overall industry, noting that, in 2020, industry revenues totaled $328 billion, around 40% of the previous year’s. The firm expects the sector to be smaller for years to come, estimating that traffic won’t return to 2019 levels before 2024.

The one bright spot? Leisure travel. McKinsey projects that business travel will be seen as largely optional for years to come and be the biggest drag on the sector, citing the four-year timeframe it took to recover following 9/11. Even before the pandemic, business travel had yet to reach the levels it had been at before the 2008 financial crisis.

But as more people are vaccinated and the borders open up, the pent-up demand for leisure travel is fuelling the recovery of the industry, especially low-cost carriers like Swoop Airlines.

Kelsey Trainor, marketing communications team lead at Swoop, confirms that the demand is back, estimating that the discount carrier has already seen volumes return to 2019 levels. But to keep those numbers aloft, the airline launched a new take on couponing that it has been running throughout November, dubbed “Swoopons.”

Every weekday until 4 p.m. Eastern, the airline releases another day’s worth of deeply discounted fares (today’s include Pheonix, Las Vegas, Cancun and Puerto Vallarta) for flights to be taken roughly one to two months after they are booked.

Internally, the deals are usually those needed to fill up flights Swoop sees as needing a push across the finish line. Each craft in the airline’s fleet has a capacity of 189 seats, so if, for example, it sees 150 seats booked, it will put those remaining 39 on deep discount.

Offering discounts to travellers willing to wait until the last minute for a deal is not new, with websites and even some airlines themselves offering them.

But what is slightly different about what Swoop is doing is utilizing it as an above-the-line marketing and brand-building tactic. And while previous marketing efforts have focused on the fact that there’s no rush to get Swoop’s cheap fares, the airline is adding a bit of urgency to the proposition to give what’s currently latent demand a jolt.

“Cheap flights are our bread and butter,” Trainor says. “Even though our fares are already ultra low-cost, people just like to pay for everything on sale. When’s the last time you bought something at the Gap and didn’t use a promo code?”

Logistically, this does require a bit more tight collaboration between Trainor’s team, the revenue and pricing team, and the agency Oliver. On a daily basis, the revenue team brings Trainor “distressed inventory” – those flights that need a little bit of support – to put on sale, and Oliver has dedicated staff embedded within Swoop pivoting creative on social to be more relevant to that day’s deals.

While primarily a social-led venture now, Swoop launched “Swoopons” by creating a giant coupon on a Mazatlan beach, effectively turning the beach into an actual, functioning coupon with a code that could be redeemed – but it would fade away once the tide came in, driving home the time-sensitive nature of the deal.

Though they might not always be called by this name, the airline is continuing to spread the word about last-minute deals as “Swoopons” for the time being. Trainor says her team and Oliver are exploring other ways of keeping momentum behind them going, such as turning other things at seasonally relevant destinations into coupons as well.