How Should Airlines Pre-Suade Volunteers to Give Up their Seats?

How to encourage a volunteer to give up a seat when a flight is overbooked?

Airline employees try various tactics. Some airlines dabble in advance bidding, such as Delta soliciting volunteers at check-in and requiring a bid amount.

Robert Cialdini follows up his 1984 Influence with Pre-Suasion (see WSJ review).

On Motley Fool Money Dr Cialdini offered the airline example as a case of what not to do:

I did identify one guy who did it completely wrong. He said, “If you will give up your seat, we will offer you a $5,000 coupon.”

Everybody listened, right? Then he said, “Oh, just joking. It’s only $300.”

Not one person went up there. He used $5,000 to get our attention, but then he fumbled the ball, because compared to $5,000, $300 seemed trivial.

He could have said something else, he could have said, “…and we’re going to give you a coupon for $5.” He would have gotten the same attention from it, “What?! $5?” Then he could have said, “No, just kidding. $300!” I’ll bet he would have gotten a crowd of people.

Readers, how should airlines pre-suade volunteers when the offer, say $300, is going to be the same regardless?

Rapid Travel Chai newsletter ¦ Twitter ¦ Facebook ¦ Instagram

  • One thing I’ve never seen airlines do is pre-confirm your voluntary change in advance. I’d be willing to accept far less (say, $50) if it meant that I didn’t have to bother showing up at the airport for the original flight. There have been a lot of times when I easily could’ve pushed my flight back, but if I’ve already turned in my rental car and hassled with airport security, I’m inclined to follow through with my scheduled flight even if I have the flexibility.

    I’m sure they’d lose a little by paying volunteers in advance and then not needing them in a few oversold situations, but I’m curious if that would be outweighed in the long run by paying a smaller amount.

  • igor

    It’s persuade not presuade!

  • @igor – see the post and title of the referenced book.

  • john

    $50? really? thats a trivial amount (especially since its just a stupid hard to use airline certificate that may have to be mailed in). Even $300 rarely gets me interested! I guess it shows how different people are!