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Delta pilots upgrade requests, Apple Pay options within iPhone app

Delta Air Lines’ Fly Delta mobile application is now enabling Canadian customers to purchase flights via Apple Pay and eligible members to request complimentary upgrades, showcasing how airlines are battling third-party booking services for a larger share of travelers’ mobile wallets.

The Fly Delta app was designed to offer consumers rapid access to day-of travel information as well as navigational capabilities, but is steadily delving deeper into the mobile commerce world. The airline’s decision to incorporate Apple Pay capabilities into its app, as well as other mobile incentives, speaks to its desire to drive more flight purchases made directly on its platform, rather than with a third-party program.

“Airlines today are pushing ancillary services (seat upgrades, checked baggage, service benefits, etc.) to the tune of billions of dollars so any move to make in-app payment easier will only benefit the airlines,” said Ryan Williams, vice president of travel at Millward Brown Digital.

“I suspect mobile payment options like Apple Pay will be used very little today in comparison to credit cards already stored in users’ apps but this will continue to shift toward alternate payment options as more consumers adopt these new methods.”

On-the-go booking
Canadian customers are now able to quickly and securely make in-app payments thanks to Fly Delta’s Apple Pay integration, which allows users to store their credit card information on their smartphones and make a purchase with the tap of a finger.

If consumers are browsing the app for flight tickets and come across an unbeatable deal, the ability to immediately buy that promotion and secure their spots on the plane will likely fuel them to purchase on the spot – especially if it is for a last-minute trip.

In turn, this could steal business away from third-party platforms such as Expedia or Orbitz, which are also ramping up their tactics to entice mobile users. Additionally, if customers belong to Delta’s SkyMiles frequent flier program, they can instantly buy flight tickets and have the accumulated miles added onto their existing balance.

The Fly Delta app’s other new features include the ability for travelers to receive enhanced flight recommendations in the event of delays or cancellations. Instead of frantically trying to contact a customer service representative, individuals can turn to their mobile device to find and book alternative routes to their final destination.

Eligible members can also use the app to request a free seat upgrade by tapping the Trip Details or My Trip button on the “Today” screen.

This could prompt more travelers to download the app, especially if their flight has a plethora of available seats and the chance for an upgrade is high.

Furthermore, the “My Wallet” section of the app has been revamped, enabling users to locate Medallion drink vouchers more easily. One way of driving more app installs – especially among new customers – could be to offer a complimentary voucher for an onboard beverage to anyone who signs up for the app.

“App downloads are a solid indicator of consumer loyalty, and loyalty can be bought,” Mr. Williams said. “Incentivizing potentially loyal customers to download an app could certainly lead to increased adoption, but I doubt it’d have much impact which airline consumers choose to fly next.

“Apps are excellent tools for travelers who’ve already booked their flights. They can also be useful for booking new flights given their easy-to-use interfaces.”

Fighting off competition
Airline brands are feverishly attempting to fend off competition from the growing number of online travel agents currently permeating the travel and hospitality space. Many of them are finding that increased mobile payment options are a hit with customers.

JetBlue is buckling in MasterCard’s MasterPass platform as it ramps up to maximize sales made via the airline’s app, showcasing the necessity of offering travelers multiple payment options (see story).

Last spring, Delta attempted to entice more Chinese consumers to book with its brand by teaming up with mobile and online payment solution Alipay (see story).

“I think airline apps will become increasingly important as traveler tools, however, it may depend on where consumers book their flights,” Mr. Williams said. “Third-party services are going to have a difficult time incorporating all of the key features supported by the various airline apps – upgrades, in-flight coupons, seat selection, mileage/membership status, etc.

“Because of this, I believe consumers will prefer the app tied to the airline they booked, perhaps even if the flight was booked on an OTA.”