OK, so my headline is a little misleading. By “pay” I mean give you 500 bonus frequent flier miles and by “you” I mean elite members of their AAdvantage frequent flier program who happens to be traveling from Boston. Here is how they explain the offer:
Through November 22, 2011, American Airlines will offer AAdvantage® elite status members the opportunity to earn a minimum of 500 AAdvantage bonus miles for checking bags on flights departing Boston Logan International Airport (BOS).
Earning the bonus miles is easy – simply visit a BOS Self-Service Check-In machine on the day of your departure and follow the normal steps to check-in with bags. Check at least one bag under your own name to earn the bonus miles, which will automatically post to your AAdvantage account five business days after you have completed the travel associated with your itinerary. As a reminder, all AAdvantage elite status members are entitled to check two bags free of charge (within current size and weight limits) in addition to earning the bonus miles with this special offer.
There are, of course, a number of caveats (such as the bonus is only for your first bag) but they are, in effect, paying a select group of passengers an incentive to check bags. This strikes me as rather crazy; I can’t quite figure out what they hope to accomplish with this.
A blogger on Reuters’ site offers that American may be looking for a way to ease bottlenecks in loading and unloading planes (Bag-check datapoint of the day, AA edition, Oct 17).
But this does seem to confirm that AA has begun to realize that its current incentives are misaligned: it’s got far too many business travelers wheeling on luggage which is carefully designed to go right up to the limit of the carry-on rules. As a result, it takes far too much time to get people on and off planes, whose luggage bins are permanently overstuffed. And flyers unhappily schlep heavy bags all over airports across the country.
Maybe, but I don’t expect that this will solve the problem. This offer is going to people who can already check a bag for free. Further, they get priority boarding so they essentially never have to fight for overhead space. For the majority of them, their actions speak very loudly: They prefer the convenience of carrying their crap with them to spending the time (and incurring a risk) in checking their bag. For the majority of these passengers, this is a choice they were making before baggage fees were imposed. I would be shocked if a mere 500 miles is enough to sway their decision. This seems at best a hollow offer that very few will take up.
If airlines really wanted to strike a balance between checked bags and carry ons without giving up revenue, they should coerce people into bidding for boarding groups while penalizing those who do not bid into higher priority slots. Thus, if you pay, say $30, you can board in Group 1 regardless of your seat assignment and will have your bag gate checked gratis if there is no available overhead space. Unwilling to pony up? Then you board last for certain and must pay $40 if you need a gate check (with a credit card swipe required when you get your boarding pass so takeoff isn’t delayed by fighting over this). That will get people to check bags while raising revenue. While also making customers mad as hell.