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Airlines need to go above and beyond to win millennials

Ask millennials what they enjoy spending money on, and “travel” will likely be one of the first things you hear. More than 75 percent of millennials prefer to spend money on experiences rather than material things,1 and 35 percent of millennials said they plan to take one to two large trips in 2015, compared to only 25 percent of adults 45-54.2

With projections that millennials will account for 50 percent of all travel by 2020,3 the travel industry, and airlines in particular, need to develop a strategy for winning over millennials. It’s a big job, but having a strong understanding of millennials and who you are as brand will start you down the path to success.

So what are millennials looking for when it comes to air travel?


Millennials arguably have the highest customer service expectations of any generation. But beyond expecting the best experience and nothing less, they value unique experiences. Combine interesting brand personality with stellar service and unique extras, and you have the secret recipe for success with millennials. Take some cues from these airline companies doing it right:

Delta safety videos

Delta is becoming known for its humorous safety videos with major personality, including its latest, The Internetest safety video on the Internet. It has over 9 million views on YouTube!

Alaska Airlines theme flights

Alaska Airlines has Disney-themed flights, complete with painted planes, characters that meet you at the gate, and pilots in mouse ears. Nearly 80 percent of millennials said they would like to travel on a themed flight.4

Southwest selfies

A pilot from Southwest Airlines gained fame for taking selfies with passengers before flights, contributing to the fun nature of the brand. You can follow him on Instagram @captainselfie1


Technology is extremely important to millennials because it’s so engrained in their behavior. They’ve grown up in a time when they can be connected anywhere, anytime. So, not surprisingly, they are disappointed when they can’t check into their flight via an app or shop Amazon from 10,000 feet in the air.

Three out four millennials are willing to pay extra for certain conveniences, with some of the most sought-after perks being high performance Wi-Fi with enough bandwidth to stream video and in-seat electrical outlets for charging devices.5 Other tech offerings millennials are interested in include RFID baggage tags that reduce the likelihood of lost suitcases5 and the ability to connect socially with other passengers on their flight.6


While millennials expect a premium experience and are willing to pay for extras, they are also willing to “rough it” and deal with fewer amenities – if it means they can afford to travel more or pay for a trip they couldn’t otherwise take. To do so, they are more open to creative ways to save money on flights:

  • 51% would take less legroom (Gen X: 38%)
  • 33% would stand (Gen X: 14%)
  • 66% would sit next to the restroom (Gen X: 51%)

With this in mind, Spirit Airlines is taking a unique approach by being the first “Ultra Low Cost Carrier of the Americas.” Spirit’s ultra-low fares are sold a la carte, meaning airfare, baggage, snacks, Wi-Fi, etc. are all separate costs. You pay for what you need, not what you don’t. Paul Berry, Director of Communications, Advertising and Brand for Spirit Airlines, says, “Yes, millennials prefer Wi-Fi and mobile access, but when they see that they can fly to Cancun for $89, suddenly Wi-Fi and mobile isn’t [sic] an issue.”7

Millennials love amenities, but Spirit is betting they love options and low prices even more.

The bottom line is that airlines (and all industries, for that matter) need to understand the millennial mindset and what’s expected if they’re going to adapt to be successful. And not only that – they have to know their niche. So it’s time for you to decide: Are you going to be the most affordable? Most techy? Most fun? As we say in the industry: fast, cheap, or quality – your brand can be two. What’s going to define you?