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Posts Tagged ‘overbooking’

One of the most basic tools in yield management is overbooking. For any service provider, capacity is perishable. Having an airline seat, restaurant table, or doctor sit idle is expensive so if you cannot be certain that every scheduled passenger, diner, or patient is going to show up, overbooking reduces the chance that capacity goes unused. Indeed, we have had a number of posts on overbooking over the years.

Given the prevalence of overbooking, it is rather remarkable that JetBlue does not. They announce this right on their website. But as BusinessWeek note, one has to wonder why they don’t (JetBlue Never Bumps Passengers. Maybe It Should, Feb 5).

Because it doesn’t overbook, JetBlue enjoys the lowest rate of involuntary denied boardings in the industry: only 18 people out of 21.3 million passengers through the first three quarters of 2013, the latest period for which data are available. Virgin America, with a bump rating close to JetBlue’s, oversells only on certain flights and usually limits the number of seats directly to the number of no-shows it expects in coach, spokeswoman Jennifer Thomas said in an e-mail. On the other end of the spectrum, Southwest subsidiary AirTran Airways had the highest rate among U.S. non-regional airlines required to report oversales, with 1.28 passengers bumped for every 10,000 travelers (or 1,800 customers in total during the period).

Several analysts expressed puzzlement over why JetBlue has avoided a common industry practice that can tip a particular flight’s financial performance from loss to profit. The airline also doesn’t advertise its practice, so most people are unaware that it doesn’t overbook—including at least one Wall Street analyst who covers the company. “It’s a bit of a head-scratcher,” says Seth Kaplan, managing partner of Airline Weekly, an industry journal. “It’s all about the extra few hundred dollars that can turn a flight profitable, especially when it’s relatively free money.”

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For all the faults of its roll out, the Affordable Care Act should ultimately provide more people with health insurance and thus a way to pay for basic health care. That implicitly assumes that there is enough health-care capacity to go around. There is a very real concern that there is not enough capacity — particularly in primary care — to properly cope with an influx of newly insured patients who will want to do basic things like see a doctor.

If capacity is going to be tight, then there is a premium on making sure it is not wasted. That, as Marketplace reports, means that clinics are experimenting with overbooking (How post-ACA health care is like the airline business, Dec 5).

[audio http://download.publicradio.org/podcast/marketplace/segments/2013/12/05/marketplace_segment05_20131205_64.mp3 ]

Here is the part I want to talk about:

Cooper University Hospital is expecting a huge wave of patients starting next month, as millions of consumers get health insurance, some for the first time. The question for hospital executives in Camden, and around the country, is how to manage this new population. For one, there is a chance this new patient population will exacerbate existing problems at Cooper.

Today, “the patient no-show rate is in high 20s, 25, 30 percent,” says Jonathan Vogan, the associate director for financial and performance measurement at Cooper’s outpatient clinic, the Urban Health Institute.

The Urban Health Institute serves more than 8,000 patients, virtually all of them low-income. Vogan says the poorer the patients, the more likely they’ll miss their appointments. And that’s an expensive problem. But Vogan says the solution is simple.

“If not all of your patients show up then the easiest thing to do is, well, just book more of them,” he says.

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We have all been there, sitting at an airport gate when the staff cheerfully announces that the flight is oversold and that they are looking for volunteers to takie an alternative flight. The gate agent then announces a series of increasing offers until enough passengers have been bought out. As the graph at right shows, although overbooking and thus bumping is not as prevalent as it was in the late 90’s, it has been an increasing issue as airlines recover from the recession. In addition to the sour economy, regulatory issues are coming into play. The Feds are raising the required compensation for involuntarily dumping a passenger to as much as $1,300.

So what would it take to get you to give up your airline seat? According to the Wall Street Journal, Delta is now explicitly asking passengers that question (Delta Makes Fliers Bid to Get Bumped, Jan 14).

Delta’s new system, which has been up and running since last month, replaces that often-chaotic system with a silent auction that asks passengers to name their price electronically before they arrive at the departure gate if it looks as though there may not be enough seats on a flight.

Passengers who check in with Delta online before leaving for the airport or at kiosks before going through security can type in the dollar amount they would accept from the airline to be bumped from their flight. Delta can then accept the lowest bids, eliminating a lot of the uncertainty early.

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