Austrian Airlines’ #FlyMeTo eCards can be offered as a romantic retreat in the making, with destination and departure still to be determined. Image via Austrian Airlines

APEX Insight: With Valentine’s Day around the corner, Austrian Airlines’ #FlyMeTo e-gift cards provide romantics with a way to spring on a surprise getaway, but fill in the blanks on destination and date details later. The digital platform is integrated socially, includes a crowdfunding option, and with the popularity of digital vouchers on the rise, could be rolled out on Lufthansa Group airlines in the future.

It’s the stuff of movies. An ordinary date night transformed by a spur-of-the-moment romantic gesture: Drop everything, pack your bags, we fly to Paris tomorrow. If you’re the braggadocio protagonist in 50 Shades of Grey, you’ll even pilot the lofty getaway. But while Anastasia, Grey’s love interest, is always readily available to accommodate his spontaneous flights of fancy, in the real world the whimsicality of it all tends to get lost in last-minute calls to babysitters, rescheduled meetings and other unromantic practicalities.

Luckily, airlines such as Austrian Airlines have a practical antidote for hopeless romantics looking to surprise someone special this Valentine’s Day: digital flight vouchers. Austrian Airlines’ #FlyMeTo eCards can be offered as a romantic retreat in the making, with destination and departure still to be determined. This option also saves the lovelorn from the embarrassment of getting stuck with a non-refundable or non-transferable ticket, should things go awry.

Austrian Airlines’ vouchers come in nine predefined values, starting at €49 and topping out at €999, but Julian Fischer, manager of New Products and Innovation for Austrian Airlines, says that most buyers opt for €199. From Vienna, that’s generally enough for a round-trip ticket to most European cities of l’amour, amore, amor or even kjaerlighet (for a Nordic retreat). #FlyMeTo the moon isn’t yet in the cards.

“We really want [#FlyMeTo eCards] to be a springboard within Lufthansa Group.” – Julian Fischer, Austrian Airlines

Having launched just before Christmas 2015, the program was initially conceived of as a one-off crowdfunding tool for communal gift giving. Much like Kickstarter, GoFundMe or other sharing economy ventures, the platform allows users to create a fund for a flight for themselves or someone else.

When crowdfunding a #FlyMeTo campaign, users have the option of selecting a recipient directly from their Facebook friend list and soliciting contributions by e-mail, Facebook private message or public sharing with a direct link. The eCards can be personalized with messages and a choice of airline-branded artwork. “It’s a combination between social media and sales, which is not easy,” says Fischer on the technical challenges involved in creating a secure and integrated platform.

The success of the airline’s Christmastime campaign convinced Austrian’s executives that #FlyMeTo should become a permanent program, and #FlyMeTo Reloaded was launched with single-voucher functionality  just in time for Valentine’s Day last year. “It was clear people wanted both options,” says Fischer. Of course, valentines on a budget can use the crowdfund option, too, if they’re so inclined. Fischer adds that the option is great for soon-to-be honeymooners.

Many airlines have been offering gift cards in various forms for more than a decade, and like everything else, the cards are going digital. “We really want this to be a springboard within Lufthansa Group,” says Fischer. With several airline members, including Lufthansa, Swiss and Germanwings, the key to the group’s digital innovation strategy is sharing platforms and ideas. A 2015 survey by InComm found that preference toward digital and mobile-friendly gift cards is on the rise, especially among young millennials, which as it happens, is also the same demographic that’s most likely to spend to impress on Valentine’s Day.

Christmas widely outsells Valentine’s Day in voucher purchases at Austrian Airlines, but Fischer says that the love holiday maintains a strong second position. Love is, after all, in the air.

Katie is a writer for APEX Media, based in Paris, France.