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Booking a Flight: Price Bait

This story can be looked at as a good (or bad) example how the Low Price hook is used online when booking a flight.

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I will mention Robert Cialdini’s “Influence”: the 5 weapons of persuasion, because it's related.

Some travel portals are set up in such way that they'll hook you with a Cheap Flight and then using a combination of Commitment and Scarcity will get extra cash from your pocket

Commitment refers to the willingness to give time and energy to something that you believe in, or a promise or firm decision to do something.

Scarcity: a situation in which something is not easy to find or get.

Before jumping to any negative conclusions, it’s worth mentioning that airlines have the right to change prices based on supply and demand. They have flights in difference price categories and when a cheaper category is sold, bookings go to the next higher priced category.

One day Ben, a friend of mine, wanted to book a flight online.

He started with the first result after a Google search: a well known travel portal.

Ben fill up a form with all his details: name, dob, number of passengers, date’s, return or not, class, underage pax...

“Searching For Your Flight”

The portal spits out 10 results ordered by price.

Obviously the cheapest flight is the most desirable choice - at least that’s what Ben wanted, so he selects that.

The next page asks for credit card details and email address.

Ben thinks that the best deal is up for grabs.

But guess what?

After submitting all details, that flight at that price is not available anymore.

An orange colored CTA grabs his attention: “Search Again for flights from…”

The button includes the “from” “to” cities entered in the previous form.

Ben really needs a flight - the button is clicked.

All details are entered once more except the destination which is pre filled, but this time the cheapest result sitting on top is $200 more expensive than before.

“That’s OK”, says Ben, “I’ll settle for that.

Credit card details again followed by Submit.

“Your transaction is being processed…”

15 seconds later: “This flight is not available anymore.”

This time instead of the “Search Again” button, another list of results is displayed, ordered by price.

The one on top, the cheapest flight, is $500 more expensive than the one listed in the very first result.

Something grabs Ben’s attention - it’s a smaller font size but is bold, red and blinking:

“Only 2 tickets remaining!”

Followed by a big orange button: “Book NOW!”

In that second, 20 thoughts invade Ben’s brain:
“Only two left..”
“M#&@&*$ #&*@# !!! It’s frikkin’ expensive!”
“I really need a flight..”
“Thousands of people are online right now and are booking flights…”
“This exact same flight…”
“This is the cheapest available and someone else may be booking this exact ticket while I’m hesitating…”
“EFFFFFF>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>!!!!!”
“...”

He cannot take the pressure anymore and clicks the button.

Credit card information is prefilled in the next page.

Check box accepting Terms and Conditions is quickly ticked.

“Buy NOW!”

Transaction successful.

Ben: “Phew!!! That was a rush…” - he is at peace.

Why It Happened?

In his book, Cialdini mentioned only in a couple of paragraphs that a low price is the most obvious and influential weapon when making a purchasing decision.

“In my investigations, I frequently saw practitioners use...
snapshot from the book Influence (quote continued): (sometimes honestly, sometimes not), the compelling I can give you a deal approach. I chose not to treat the material self-interest rule separately in this book because I see it as a motivational given, as a goes-without-saying factor that deserves acknowledgement but not extensive description. Finally, each principle is examined as to its ability to produce distinct kind of automatic , mindless compliance from people, that is, a willingness to say yes without thinking first.

There was not much to comment about this: we all want to pay less.

But in this case the Low Price was used as a bait to hook Ben further down the line.

He fills out a long form which qualifies him as a valid lead.

The next page Credit Card information confirms that he is ready to buy.

Unavailability followed by a personalized CTA (Call To Action) lures Ben even further.

He already committed once, so the chances are high that he’ll do it again.

On the second set of search results the price is higher as the weapons of influence kick in.

Ben’s readiness to buy is tested once again as he needs to enter his credit card information.

This time the unavailability of the tickets is followed by a different list of higher priced results, a combination of Scarcity (Fear Of Missing Out) and a Belcher button.

On the next page Ben does not need to fill in again his credit card information - the form is populated.

Why waste time when a prospect is ready to buy and he is impatient?

It’s smart, but low.

How to Avoid The Booking Trap?

Ben’s case may not be unique and it could happen to anyone.

Online forms and copy work for the website owner as an automated salesperson.

Before hitting that Buy button, take a short 5 minute break and think of something else. If you can :) - you do need a flight after-all.

Call two local travel agents and ask for a quote: that’s the price closer to reality.

Continue your online “adventure”.

You’ll be surprised to see how many sites are offering so called “cheap tickets” just to hook you.

Cialdini’s “Influence” is generally read by marketing professionals, but let’s not forget that the purpose of the book is to educate the general audience how to avoid persuasive traps.

Don’t get hooked by a low price unless it’s really a low price.


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