From embarrassing error fare lemons to sweet, social media-fueled lemonade, Hong Kong Airlines is squeezing every last drop from the PR opportunity it created when it decided to honor an erroneous discounted business-class fare.
When it comes to error fares in the digital age, Hong Kong Airlines’ epic mishap last summer was one for the record books. Posting a round-trip business-class fare from Los Angeles to Shanghai, Bali and a host of other Asian locales for the steeply discounted price of $560, the fares made waves online almost instantly.
But what happened next surprised even the most jaded frequent flyers and travel bloggers. Within 48 hours of posting the fare online, Hong Kong Airlines didn’t just freely admit its mistake – the social media-savvy carrier steered the online conversation in its favor by announcing that it would honor the error fare.
Recounting the incident on his daily SimpliFlying Live Show online, SimpliFlying CEO and author Shashank Nigam said, “It was the way [the airline] honored the fare that caught everyone’s attention. Many times when there is an error fare, airlines do not give a response or give a muted response. Hong Kong Airlines released a statement saying, you know what, we did it and we’re going to honor it.”
“Hong Kong Airlines is not Cathay Pacific, they are not Singapore Airlines,” he continued. “They are a small, but fast-growing airline in Asia which is now expanding its wings, so, they can do with all of the publicity they can get, especially in the US and here in the west.”
Last week, Nigam revealed on LinkedIn how Hong Kong Airlines is upping the ante even further on the publicity front by placing cards on the seats of the “lucky few” who purchased the error fares, encouraging them to share their in-flight experiences online using the hashtags #hkairlines and #businessclassfare.
“By constantly engaging with [their] audience, Hong Kong Airlines shaped the conversation to fit their business needs,” Nigam told APEX Media. “Hong Kong Airlines not only turned a hard situation around, they continue to leverage it with the issuing of notes to passengers who ‘got lucky.’ Few airlines close the loop this well.”
“Trying to make decisions without a great social media listening tool is like trying to read in the dark.” – Dennis Owen, Hong Kong Airlines
Reached for comment over the weekend, Dennis Owen, Hong Kong Airlines’ general manager, Branding and Social Media, weighed in on the carrier’s deft handling of the situation as well.
“In this day and age trying to make decisions without a great social media listening tool is like trying to read in the dark,” explained Owen. “Airlines are full of complexities and things don’t always go right. While you can’t prevent all negative situations, with a good social media listening tool you can better understand what is happening and when it is happening [and] this helps you to make the best decision for the brand. In this case, we managed to turn what could have been a damaging issue into a fantastic PR opportunity.”