Low prices make people happy, no matter what
If you haven’t been paying attention the past couple decades, the cost of airline tickets in inflation-adjusted dollars is a fraction of what it was in the 1990s. J.D. Power’s survey found that airfares dropped again in 2016, down 8.5% to an average of $349. The flying public likes a bargain, and oftentimes is satisfied simply by getting from A to B with a minimal cash outlay. Because price is the heaviest-weighted factor in the survey, more low fares play a bigger role in overall satisfaction.
“The value of an airline ticket is better in the eye of a passenger,” says Michael Taylor, the Practice Lead for Travel at J.D. Power. “If the price of a flight from New York to San Francisco goes down, people perceive a better value. They might take away a couple inches of legroom in exchange, but people don’t think about that until they’re already on the flight.”
Transparency in pricing makes us actually trust the airlines
Airlines are offsetting these lower fares by charging fees for things that were once included, a practice that plays perfectly into passenger psychology. “We trick our brains into liking the smaller number, then rationalizing that it makes sense to pay fees for other things,” says Dr. Jennifer Gentile, a clinical psychologist with the online care group Live Health Online. “It’s easier for us to stomach small fees than one large amount.”
And in general, people understand that they get what they pay for. “If you buy that basic coach fare, you know if you want more room or more amenities, you’ll be charged accordingly,” says Taylor. Airlines, in their more-dynamic pricing, are doing a better job of satisfying different types of passengers. From a psychological standpoint, Dr. Gentile says, charging a base price and fees actually makes us trust the airlines more.