How Airlines Sell More First Class Seats and What That Means for Broadway.

If you’ve flown first class or business class, I’d bet you the price of your own airplane that you want to fly it again.

Not only is it a more comfortable flying experience, but there’s this whole status thing that comes along with it.

And the airlines love it when you (or more likely the company you work for) shells out buckets of cash for your lay-flat bed or in-flight hot fudge sundae.

But let’s face it.  How many people are willing to pay 10x or more the cost of an economy ticket for those few hours in the air?

That price resistance is a huge obstacle that the airlines have to overcome.

How do they get you to do it?

They give it away.

One of the primary benefits of frequent flyer programs is the chance that you’ll get upgraded when you fly with one airline a ton. I’m sure you’ve all seen that “upgrade list” on a monitor as you’ve prepared to board your flight. Those are all folks who paid economy but are praying for a bump to the better class of service.

Why do the airlines offer this opp?

Yes, it’s a big perk to get you to fly one airline more than another (those who fly more, get a better chance at their name being called).

But the airlines also know that the first sentence of this blog is so true, they’re willing to give it up for free because they know the chance of you paying a premium price later goes way up.

Because once you go first, it’s hard to go to the back.

The airlines know you’ll fly with them more to get more mileage to use for upgrades. You’ll beg your boss for biz class to be included in your contract. You’ll get the airline credit card just to get even more mileage.

It all adds up.

They give away the premium experience to gain your premium dollars in the future.

How does the this translate to what we do?

Well, it is a fact that . . .

The profitability of Broadway shows depends on the full price buyer. Discounts can keep shows going so that you can get to the full price seasons (Xmas, Thanksgiving, New Year’s), but for a show to be “wicked” profitable, you want full price.

Therefore . . .

To achieve greater profitability we need more full-price buyers.

To use the airline model, if we found a way to give away our “first class” seats (first ten rows, aisle seats, etc.) to people who haven’t experienced being ten feet away from Bryan Cranston or being so close they can hear Jesse Mueller’s voice come from her mouth instead of through a speaker, I’d bet they’d never want to sit in our cheap seats again.

Could we do this through our loyalty programs? Is this an industry-wide initiative or something single shows could do?

What about random “surprise and delight” upgrades where you just walk someone from the balcony down to some unsold premium seats (I’ve done this at a few of my shows).

Show people what they are missing, and they’ll never want to miss out on that experience again.

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Ken created one of the first Broadway podcasts, recording over 250 episodes over 7 years. It features interviews with A-listers in the theater about how they “made it”, including 2 Pulitzer Prize Winners, 7 Academy Award Winners and 76 Tony Award winners. Notable guests include Pasek & Paul, Kenny Leon, Lynn Ahrens and more.