Starting next month, customers looking for flights on Spirit Airlines in the U.S., the Caribbean and Latin America will be able to make reservations over text message.
Travelers will be able to buy flights and change reservations through Facebook’s WhatsApp starting Sept. 1 in both English and Spanish, according to a company press release Monday (Aug. 26).
A Spirit Airlines chatbot will collect basic information and then a Spirit agent will take over, spokesman Haven Kaplan told CNBC. Travelers will then click a link to finish the booking.
Airlines want more bookings to take place on their own sites, rather than third-party travel agencies. Airlines already cater to passengers’ customer service needs over Twitter. American Airlines, for example, has staff devoted to helping travelers tweeting about flight delays and other problems. Delta Air Lines said it is also planning to test customer service over text.
Payments is another issue where airlines are changing it up. In May, a joint effort involving the Universal Air Travel Plan (UATP) and Sweden-based FinTech firm Trustly are developing a solution so airlines can accept instant online bank payments for consumers’ ticket purchases. The program “gives travelers the flexibility to purchase airfare by using their preferred bank account,” an offering that benefits both customers and airlines, said Rachel Morowitz, vice president, alternative forms of payment at UATP.
The airline industry, like so many other businesses, is coming to realize that consumers are setting the pace when it comes new and preferred payment methods — methods that go beyond traditional credit cards. The airlines see in real-time how much the payment market is being disrupted and fragmented with hundreds of emerging methods in various regions, and they see a clear path to a favorable return on investment (ROI) if they accommodate those payment methods.
UATP processed a record number of alternative (non-card based) payments over its platform in 2018, and expects to see that number soar in 2019 and beyond. And those changes are taking place as the larger travel industry becomes much more mobile-focused.
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