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The Unique Allegiant Name Change Option

I was supposed to be winging my way north on my first trip on Allegiant to Bellingham this weekend for a short visit with some family. Unfortunately, a lot came up for them and they called the trip off. On most airlines, I would just have to take my losses (the ticket cost less than the change fee), but on Allegiant, there is the unique option for a 2010_08_09 g4boardingpassname change.

In fact, if you’re interested in using these tickets (from Long Beach to Bellingham on Thursday, back Sunday), send me a note at cf@crankyflier.com.

As you know, almost no airline allows you to change your name. Allegiant, however, is different. Its business model means that name changes make sense. For me, this means that my absurdly cheap $40 ticket won’t necessarily go to waste, despite the fact that the $50 change fee costs more than the ticket itself.

So why is it that this works for Allegiant and not others? It’s all about the nature of the people onboard. Allegiant is a pure leisure airline and it sells nearly all of its seats (usually over 90% filled each month). By nature, most of these leisure travelers show up for their flights, so Allegiant can’t gain a ton by overbooking. With most people booking further in advance, Allegiant also doesn’t see a big spread in airfare. Allegiant also makes a ton of money via ancillary revenue. So, if Allegiant lets someone else take over a ticket for $50, it’s probably worth another $30 or so in ancillary revenue that it wouldn’t get if the original traveler just didn’t show up.

For the traditional airlines, it’s a different story. The business traveler is more likely to no-show (or change plans at the last minute) than most, so those airlines with a biz traveler focus can consistently overbook more. Those last minute tickets on traditional carriers cost a lot more than a mere $50 name change fee, so for them to allow it would be a revenue-negative move.

The biggest concern for airlines is, of course, that a secondary market gets created and the airlines won’t be able to take a cut. Think about it. The scalper business could be huge. You buy a bunch of cheap tickets for Thanksgiving the day they go on sale and then resell them at 5 times the price once flights start filling up. It would require some pretty serious process work to make sure that the system doesn’t get taken advantage of. For most, it’s easier to just not allow it at all.

From Allegiant’s perspective, they’ve spelled things out in their terms and conditions:

The purchase and resale of any or all Allegiant Air products including, but not limited to, travel, hotel, auto, activities or services, packages, promotions, convenience fees and taxes, baggage fees and/or seat fees by any individual, entity or company is strictly prohibited unless you are an authorized agent of Allegiant Air.

In other words, I can’t charge anyone who might want my ticket. I can have them pay the name change fee, I think, but that’s it. (Maybe I can encourage a donation to Equitas Academy. I sit on the board and our big fundraiser is coming up.) But I can’t make any money off this. The hard part for Allegiant and anyone else, however, is that this is likely to be incredibly hard to enforce.

I remain convinced that there’s a way to make something like this work on a wider scale, but I don’t have access to the internal data you’d need to really figure out if it could work or not. At least for Allegiant, it seems like a much easier case to make.

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