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The discount introductory flight trapThe discount introductory flight trap

Offering deeply discounted introductory flights might bring a lot of curious aviation enthusiasts through your doors, but it can become a logistical and budgeting nightmare and won’t secure long-term, satisfied customers any more effectively than accurate, honest pricing.

A recent search for discounted introductory flight lessons on a popular “deal of the day” website yielded several offers, including this one: $85 for one hour of flight training and one hour of ground school. In the ad, the flight school claimed that this two-hour experience was valued at $170, which, when compared to the rates published on the flight school’s website, is accurate. The school normally charges $95 per hour wet for the airplane used in the deal, and $40 per hour for instruction, so a lesson that includes one hour in the airplane ($95 + $40) and an additional one hour of ground instruction ($40) would cost the customer $175.

What the customer doesn’t see is the marketing fee the flight school pays the website for the listing, which can be as high as 50 percent of the purchase price. In our example, this would mean that the flight school would have to pay the website $42.50 for each deal sold. Assuming the operating cost of this airplane is about $50 per hour, the flight school is essentially breaking even on the aircraft rental, and on top of that, giving away two hours of its time for each deal sold. If the deal is wildly successful, the school will spend several days or more giving free airplane rides and bleeding instructor revenue.

On the day I did my research, the website claimed that 170 of these deals had been purchased, but there is no way to know how many had been or will be redeemed. The manager of a different flight school than the one in our example, who had run a similar type of deal years ago as a promotion, told me that the school’s redemption rate was less than 50 percent. Still, the school was overwhelmed with people who purchased the deal because they just wanted a cheap airplane ride, and the school struggled to meet the demand. The manager told me that the school made money on the effort from the people who purchased the deal, but never redeemed it.

Another “daily deal” that popped up on my Facebook recently offered an $89 introductory flight, which the ad claimed is regularly valued at $205. This offer promised an unspecified amount of “ground schooling” followed by “30 minutes airborne.” If we assume a Cessna Skycatcher (which was the airplane displayed in the ad), the advertised price translates to a normal hourly rate of more than $400 for dual instruction, which is well above market rates. I visited the flight school’s website and found this aircraft rents for $109 per hour wet, so the real value of the experience is more like $100.

These sorts of numbers games can mislead potential students about the actual cost of flight training. At Holladay Aviation, we believe that the golden rule should govern everything that we do. Introductory flights are a great way to provide potential students with a fun introduction to flying at a fair, fixed price. Our regular rate for dual instruction in our Cessna 152 is $165 ($105 per hour wet for the airplane and $60 per hour for our time). For a 30-minute introductory flight, I have to factor in another 10 to 15 minutes or about 0.2 on the Hobbs for taxi and runup. If that were a regular lesson, it would cost the customer $165 x 0.7 = $115.50 just for the flight time, plus whatever ground instruction is conducted as part of the lesson, which would be a minimum of the flight time plus 0.3, or exactly one hour in this case.

We offer a 30-minute introductory flight package in our Cessna 152 for $129, which includes a preflight briefing and a post-flight debriefing. We allow 90 minutes on our schedule for each 30-minute flight to ensure that the customer has plenty of time to ask questions, so we are in essence giving the customer one hour of ground instruction at no charge. We normally spend an hour or more speaking with potential new students about our training program anyway, and our conversion rate on introductory flights is more than 50 percent.

The way we see it, it’s a win-win for us and for our customers. We provide them with a great experience at a fair price, without sacrificing our bottom line or our integrity.

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