This is a well-thought-out move: Low-cost air carrier Virgin America, which has attempted to court passengers with a tech-savvy offering since its 2007 launch, announced today its initial service from San Francisco and Los Angeles to Chicago's O'Hare International Airport. To drum up online chatter, it partnered with Chicago's company of the moment--Groupon.
Groupon users can purchase $77 worth of Virgin America credit for $7 on the massive group-buying site, with the caveat that it can only be used on the airline's new Chicago routes. Given the amount of positive buzz for a brand that can arise when it runs a solid deal on Groupon or one of its competitors (though a botched deal can generate phenomenal negative buzz as well) the Virgin-Groupon deal is a fitting and geographically appropriate means of promotion.
(The fine print: it can only be used for economy-class round-trip fares through November 15, travel must be booked by May 25, and blackout dates apply.)
With the eccentric British billionaire Richard Branson as the face of the airline, Virgin America has added perks like in-flight Wi-Fi and a fancy touch-screen in-flight entertainment system to attract digitally inclined travelers who tend to cluster around its home base of San Francisco and are fed up with typical airline industry headaches and discomforts. It hasn't all been successful: A much-touted inaugural international route, from San Francisco to Toronto, was cut after several months due to low demand, with new routes to Dallas and several Mexican resort cities added in its place.
At the same time, though, the young airline turned a profit for the first time late last year, quelling some of the skepticism about whether geeky bells and whistles could drive up unnecessary costs.