When It Comes to Co-Branding, Airlines Have it in the Bag


While airlines may seem to be cutting back on services and charging for everything from baggage to pillows, there’s one little item that remains a hold-over from days gone by — the swag bag.

For decades, airlines have handed out small bags with elite branded amenities to their first class travelers in an effort to treat them deferentially, in much the same way celebrities are showered with gifts when they attend awards shows and other exclusive events.

The subtle difference today, however, is the fact that some airlines are looking to the practice as a new way to generate revenue — by selling the bags to economy-class passengers, and splitting the proceeds with the brands providing the goodie bags.

Peddling first-class travel kits to those seated behind the curtain in economy is a growth industry, it seems.[more]

Anita Gittelson, EVP for Wessco International, the leader in providing products to the travel industry, tells the New York Times, “The airlines are very interested in co-branding and revenue sharing. … We’re trying to look for ways to give coach class the opportunity to purchase for very little money what business and first class gets for free. Revenue generation and airlines are like two magic words. They need the money.”

That isn’t the primary motivation for the bags, though, and no airlines are offering them for sale as of yet. Special amenities are designed to recognize the importance of an airline’s most valued customers. During the days of early air travel, when travelers were proud to carry branded travel bags from Pan Am and other airlines, those niceties included toothpaste, emery boards, and perfume.

These days, it’s more about upscale brands, such as Essentiel Elements, a brand of aromatherapy products that took off when it became standard fare in amenity kits used by Delta. Gittelson adds, “It was a marvelous introduction to the public of a brand that was just starting to move. Laura Peck Fennema, the founder of Essentiel Elements, tells the Times, “It was a new revenue stream for Delta and it had a very positive impact on our business.”

Brand partnerships are a way airlines can pitch classy products and distinguish themselves from other carriers. Korean Airlines just struck a deal with California skin care company Davi, for example, to become its exclusive provider of first-class and business class travel kits. And now airlines are not only sensitive to the products they offer, they take pains to make bags that are environmentally friendly and work within the constraints of size, weight and, of course, cost.

Airlines also want bags that reflect a positive, aspirational brand association. “It has become an art form of sorts. Airlines today will ask their interior designers to work on their kits,” says Gittelson. Hmmm… and here we thought carriers were concerned about fuel prices and passenger safety.

[New York Times; image via Pan Am Brands]