United Airlines said on Monday (May 24) that it is launching a new campaign to get people flying again after the worst year in the industry’s history. In launching the “Your Shot to Fly” promotion, United CEO Scott Kirby said the dual-pronged promo is aimed at getting people vaccinated, while also encouraging them to dream about exotic destinations with the chance of winning free travel for a year.
“We’re proud to do our part to incentivize people to get their shot,” Kirby said in a press release. “Thanks to the vaccine, more and more destinations are opening up for travel — and we know our customers are eager to fly.”
By most accounts, 2020 was apocalyptically bad for the airline industry, which hemorrhaged over $35 billion in losses as COVID-19 ground flights and killed consumer enthusiasm for long-distance travel. While airlines have consistently predicted that 2021 would be a better year, recent earnings reports indicate a good deal of uncertainty about what the shape of the recovery will be, or how soon consumers will want to fly the friendly skies again.
Airlines are working hard to help consumers rediscover their wings, as recently evidenced by the buy now, pay later (BNPL) option making its first appearance on airline checkout pages as the industry attempts to jump on the bandwagon of the latest consumer payment trend.
And as of this week, United has raised the bar when it comes to incenting consumers to fly, announcing its new sweepstakes that will give travelers the chance to win a year of free flights to anywhere in the world, provided entrants have gotten their COVID-19 vaccines. The “Your Shot to Fly” sweepstakes specifically will allow members of the MileagePlus frequent flier program to upload their vaccination records to a mobile app or website until June 22. A week later, on July 1, the airline will announce five winners who will be awarded a full year of free travel for themselves and a companion in any class of service to anywhere United flies. In addition, the airline will give away 30 pairs of tickets to participants for a roundtrip flight for two, in any class of service, to any location.
United is the only airline allowing consumers to upload COVID-19 vaccination and testing records directly to a digital platform, saving them time at the airport. And while it is making the biggest and most aggressive incentive push to get consumers flying again, United is far from alone in tapping into incentives and rewards. The Mediterranean nation of Malta, slated to reopen for tourism on July 1, is funding vouchers for both hotels and diving excursions in hopes of drawing travelers back, according to reports.
New York City, on the other hand, is using vaccines as the incentive, offering shots to visitors who want one. The offer comes alongside a slew of offerings the city has been rolling out for the vaccinated, including free weekly MetroCards, Citi Bike passes and comped tickets to iconic attractions, from the Bronx Zoo to Lincoln Center.
According to NYC mayor Bill de Blasio, the plans for the vaccine distribution will likely entail pop-up sites offering free Johnson & Johnson doses to tourists at some of the city’s most popular attractions, including the Empire State Building, Times Square, Brooklyn Bridge Park, High Line and Central Park, among others (pending approval).
“This is a positive message to tourists,” said de Blasio at a press briefing. “Come here, it’s safe, it’s a great place to be and we’re going to take care of you. We’re going to make sure you get vaccinated while you’re here with us.”
And not every upgrade is necessarily vaccine-related. As JetBlue’s recent deal with the NBA demonstrates, some are merely premised on making flights more enjoyable for passengers. Communications company Viasat has struck a multi-year deal with the National Basketball Association that will deliver live NBA games to JetBlue passengers on the airline’s international flights. (The service will not be available on domestic U.S. flights or routes within China or Canada.) The terms of the deal will allow passengers to access the NBA League Pass, the league’s premium live game subscription service, which will offer access to live and on-demand NBA games and content at no extra cost. The service will be available in time for the 2021 NBA playoffs, according to reports.
Will any of these incentives and opportunities to win big prizes push more people out into the wide world? Hard to say, but visiting family and friends, traveling and venturing to events all topped the list of activities consumers told PYMNTS they are eager to resume after the pandemic period has passed. Some 60 percent reported that their main interest is seeing their family and friends again, while a commanding majority report said they want to travel domestically and take part in leisure activities outside their homes.
The pent-up demand is there. Now, as summer heats up, the unfolding challenge for travel players is to find the right set of incentives to tap into it.