Free, Freemium, and Space Oddities

Will free wi-fi influence your decision for choosing which airline to fly?


It does for me, which is why I was very excited to have my first experience with wi-fi at 40,000 feet on my Southwest Airlines flight tonight – even though there was a cost of five dollars.  

Realistically, you have to expect the unexpected when you fly, and weather delays resulted in plane changes that negated the promise to provide wi-fi on my two hour trip home from Baltimore to Chicago.

I understand.

Nevertheless, I wrote this post anyway – offline.

Ground Control to Major Tom 

In David Bowie's classic tune Space Oddity, he captures the peculiar experience of flying – one that tends to focus your attention on the present moment.  This is why many of us know flying to be one of the best times to write.  

There is something about being enveloped within the cocoon of the airplane that brings out our best work within a specific period.  In many ways it works much like the Pomodoro Technique.

Free Wi-Fi and the Rejuventation of the Bus Industry

Free wi-fi was a major influence in the rebirth of the motor coach industry, with Megabus and Bolt being two of the most notable players. When my son Zak takes Megabus between our home in Chicago and The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio, he has six hours of free wi-fi use.

This is one reason why many commuters between Boston and New York city are opting to travel by bus instead of air. Business travelers know there will always be delays, regardless of the mode of transportation.

If taking the slow road by bus means having Internet connectivity during that journey of unknown duration, it suddenly becomes a viable, if not preferred alternative.

Free and Reverse Freemium

Free wi-fi on motorcoach travel helped to transform the bus industry, just as free or freemium services did for the social media and technology space.  Southwest Airlines currently charges for the use of their wi-fi service, which may just be an experiment to determine how many are willing to pay for it. 

This is sort of a reverse freemium approach. Why give any of it away if the majority is willing to pay for it? Freemium provides basic services for free and charges for premium or higher value services. For the most part, wi-fi is wi-fi, so maybe charging for all of it is a good plan.

However, hotels tried this and it only aggravated their best customers.  This is why most chains now offer free wi-fi to their best customers – those enrolled in their rewards plans. They use the free wi-fi for a purpose – alignment with their brand.

What is the Value of Wi-Fi

Consumers now determine value.  Social media gives them a voice and they use it.  My hunch is that once travelers recognize wi-fi can be provided during air travel, they will expect it – and for free.

Why?  Because wi-fi is now as universal as a glass of water. Nearly all of us use it.

This will become more evident as devices such as the iPad become more prevalent, and as the the Facebook generation enters the workforce. 

The Competitive Nature of Your Industry

Like so many other industries, air travel is competitive. Offering a valuable service such as free wi-fi gives businesses an edge.  This is probably why Southwest Airlines plans to have wi-fi in all of their planes by the end of the summer.

The question is whether or not they will continue to charge for it.  The answer lies within the fact that there are two types of air travelers – the business travelers that are loyal to a specific airline, and the many casual travelers that will always take the least expensive option.

What does this mean for your business?

Are there extra services that you could (and should) be offering for a fee to attract new customers?

Or should you offer them for free to maintain a competitive advantage?

These are decisions that you should always be considering if you expect to be competitive and relevant to the markets you serve.

You don't want to be like Major Tom – getting the bad news from ground control while you are floating out in space. In many ways businesses are floating in space if they are not aggressively seeking to communicate with ground control – their customers.

Leave a comment below. And feel free to share this with your friends by clicking on the Facebook Like button.And please consider subscribing to to learn more ways to profitably grow your small business.

Until tomorrow,  Jeff

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