Airline CEO predicts a future where 'we will pay you to fly'
Since taking to the air in 2014, WOW Air has become an increasingly disruptive force in ultra-low-cost long-haul international air travel.
The Icelandic carrier and its bright fuchsia planes have made waves with stunningly low prices.
In January, WOW launched a sale for $69 one way tickets from the US to Europe. In June, the airline followed up with a sale for $55 trans-Atlantic tickets. These sales have helped bring awareness to the airline that's expected to double in size over the next two years.
These sales have helped bring awareness to the airline that's expected to double in size over the next two years.
However, the question must be asked. How low can they go?
"I can see a day when we pay you to fly," WOW Air founder and CEO Skúli Mogensen told Business Insider in an interview.
For years now, airlines have worked to diversify their revenues streams and to reduce their reliance on ticket sales for income. Fees for things such as seat selection, early boarding, and in-flight meals have become the norm. In addition, they have developed lucrative partnerships with hotels, restaurants, rental car agencies, and other travel industry players to ensure their ability to derive revenue from all facets of a passenger's travel needs.
WOW has certainly capitalized on ancillary income to lower ticket prices since unbundled, a la carte service options allow passengers to pay for only what they need.
"Our goal, and we're working hard towards it, is for our ancillary revenue to actually surpass our passenger revenue," Mogensen said. "What ever airline becomes the first to achieve this will be a game changer."
In theory, by lowering an airline's dependency on passenger revenue, the amount it charges per ticket becomes less important. In the most extreme case, the fact a passenger is on the flight will be more crucial for the airline's bottom line than how much it charged for airfare. That's because most of the money the airline will make from its passengers comes after they purchase their ticket. And thus WOW could technically pay you to be on the plane and still make money from the trip.
According to the former tech entrepreneur and investor, WOW's plans involve going even further in terms of customer engagement.
"It means having a deeper, more personalized relationship based on your prior behavior, needs, and obviously always with your privacy in mind," Mogensen said.
That means WOW's future value as a company will be tied to how effectively it can leverage data collected from its customers in the same vein as Facebook or Google. In fact, Mogensen believes airlines are even close to realizing the full potential of its business intelligence.
"If we can understand your needs better, it allows us to interact with you more effectively and help you have a more successful trip whether that be for business or leisure."
In addition, WOW is looking at a slew of innovative ways to rewards its passengers financially. This includes potentially paying passengers whose social media posts generate business for WOW — effectively turning its customers into the airline's brand ambassadors.
"There are all kinds of interesting opportunities through using technology and social media," the CEO told us. " People tend to take a lot of photos while traveling, sharing their experiences. We see a lot of interesting ways to empower people to spread the word about Wow and to reward them accordingly."
As a far WOW's continued growth as a disruptive force airline business, Mogensen is as concerned with traditional measures of success.
"I want to build a great company and have fun doing it."