All about OptionTown

Another way of unbundling has reached my attention. Using the services of Optiontown, I got an upgrade last week, with Air Asia at nominal cost. The way it worked was this:

  1. I completed my online  booking with Air Asia
  2. I then navigated to  Optiontown and retrieved my airline booking
  3. Chose the upgrade option I wanted
  4. Paid a small non refundable fee to apply for the upgrade. Fees can be paid by Credit Card or Paypal
  5. Paid a second fee equivalent to 50% of the usual upgrade price. This fee is refunded five days after the flight if upgrade does not come through
  6. Waited for confirmation of my upgrade which appeared four hours before travel. This confirmation can come as early as four days before.
  7. Got on board and enjoyed a nicer seat for less than Air Asia’s advertised price

Logo_of_optiontownTwelve airlines are currently using Option town (see below) to sell excess upgrade capacity to passengers. Depending on airline and sector,  Optiontown offers eight opportunities for some sort of an upgrade, after a customer has bought their ticket:

 

 

  1.  Empty Seat Option (EeSo) – travellers can buy one or two Empty Seats next to their seat for the entire duration of the flight, for a non refundable $1 fee plus a nominal seat price
  2. Flexibility Reward Option (FRo) – if a traveller has a flexibility and can travel at a different time on the same day, Optiontown may move them to a different flight and pay the passenger a bonus. This allows airlines to more effectively manage capacity
  3. Lounge Access Option (LAo)- discounted lounge access
  4. Multiple Booking Option (MBo) -allows passengers to hold confirmed availability on multiple flight(s) simultaneously and up to one day before departure, choose the flight they want to fly on
  5. Preferred Flight Option (PFo) -allows  a passenger to try and get themselves moved to a flight they really want at a much cheaper price.
  6. Preferred Seat Option (PSo) -access to Exit row, extra legroom or bulkhead seating at a discounted rate
  7. Upgrade Travel Option (UTo,) – upgrades to Business and First Class at lower cost
  8. Xtra Baggage Option (XBo) – reduced price luggage

The thing to understand about Optiontown’s service is that it is a gamble. You may not get the upgrade you want and lose the (admittedly very low) application fee you have forked out. They do seem to promptly return the payment made for the actual service. If you, as a passenger do snag their desired upgrade, then you get a bonus deal for a lower price. I am curious how many passengers who do not get their upgrade are disappointed and how many are accepting of the situation? Also, when I first booked my Air Asia fare, I turned down the Optiontown upgrade initially. On researching it a few days later, I found that the price of the upgrade had fallen. I presume the risk I would not get the option increased.

There is a Tripadvisor Forum dedicated to this subject. Many consumers note that Optiontown hangs onto your cash for a fair period of time. Some question the security of your cash while it is being held by Optiontown: what happens if Optiontown fails?

The benefit for the airline is that they can generate more revenue for very little effort.   Air Asia stated that they are earning ancillary revenue in seven figures from Optiontown and have doubled their revenue from Optiontown in 2012 and plan to quadruple it in in 2013.

Massachusetts based, Optiontown have been quietly operating for four years.  Sachin Goel is the founder and the CEO:. An interview with him is here:

The airlines which are using some or all of their services are:

  1. Adria
  2. AeroMexico (Skyteam)
  3. AirAsia
  4. Air Baltic
  5. Air India
  6. Air Europa (Skyteam)
  7. Cyprus
  8. Estonian Airlines
  9. Firefly
  10. SAS (Star Alliance)
  11. Spicejet
  12. Vietnam Airlines (Skyteam)

Malaysian Airlines used to offer Optiontown but seem to have discontinued the relationship. One wonders if this was because their proposed tie up with  Air Asia fell through?

It will be interesting to see how many other companies jump on the bandwagon. It will be also interesting to see what happens when a major carrier like Turkish, United or Air France-KLM come on board. The downside, of course, for passengers in this new model, is that the day of being randomly offered a “free upgrade” are vanishing faster and faster. Why would an airline offer a customer a free upgrade when they can generate cash revenue for an otherwise empty seat?

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Comments

  1. I’ve used the Optiontown UTO option before, to get premium (biz) seats on Air Asia. The biggest issue with UTO on AAX is that it’s a gamble in more ways than one. The first and most obvious is the actual Optiontown fees which is clear. The second however are the ancillary fees to Air Asia itself ie. luggage and meals.

    If you buy extra meals/luggage allowance to take advantage of the pre-flight low rates and your UTO goes through, you’re paying twice to Air Asia ie. first when you paid for it via the cheap seats and second when you paid for it via the UTO.

    If you don’t buy extra meals/luggage allowance and your UTO doesn’t go through, you lose out because it’s past the time limit for cheap pre-flight rates and you’ll pay extra to Air Asia at the check in counter.

    In both scenarios above you as a consumer are overpaying Air Asia for luggage/meals where you have little choice because of the Optiontown gamble. It’s no wonder Air Asia is making 7-figure revenues from Optiontown.

  2. I have a fantastic experience with this company Optiontown and have used their services for one of my journey. They upgraded my economy ticket to business class. Really enjoyed my long haul flight. It is like a Win Win situation for both optiontown and travelers. Worth using !

  3. Read the UTo is not for award tickets. If so then why the heck they keep me sending e-mails offering their services????? I just tried them and still awaiting for a reply when it’s only 8 hours left for travel.

  4. I wonder how much Optiontown is making from the non-refundable fees they charge? Eg, there are only about 12 seats maximum in business class, are they accepting applications from a lot more people than that knowingly taking non-refundable fees (albeit low fees but still!)for an amount of ppl that cannot possibly get an upgrade? And what is their method is for selecting ppl to upgrade eg first come, first served or alphabetical? I have paid optiontown a few times now and am yet to be upgraded. Refunds were paid in a timely manner however notice of upgrades were not given within the ‘up to 4 hr’ period which has delayed me checking in til the last minute a few times and not being able to be seated with my booking party due to only single seats left.

  5. I wondered the same. Do they cap what they sell at 12 business class seats or less? The chances of an Air Asia premium cabin being empty is really rare, surely. Not everyone would want to pay for an upgrade but say 40 people did- do they sell them all an option?
    I assume they are allocated on a first in first served basis.

  6. I could not recommend Optiontown to anyone. It is no wonder they are making so much money for the airline….hmmm. I never got the option I paid for (two empty seats next to me)…they notified me three hours after my first flight left…I only got back $24 AUD as a refund out of $56 USD…they only pay back in Malaysian ringitt. I am not surprised the airline is happy with them… bah humbug!!!!

  7. J’ai un problème avec optiontown j’avais réservé sur un vol corsair un Paris Dakar aller et retour plus un surclassement optiontown. J’ai été hospitallisée et sous le prétexte que j’avais été surclassée il ne veulent pas me rembourser mon surclassement. Corsair et ses assurances m’ont remboursé il n’y a qu’optiontown qui ne veut rien entendre. Qui peut m’aider????avez vous été confronté à ce problème?????
    Merci
    Jo

  8. Never use this option town service again. I requested to change my returned flight from taipei-kul 26 mac to 29 mac. Till the departure date I still can’t the confirmation flight and we can’t plan our itenary at all. Try calling the option town several time and they are not helpful at all. Just told me the policy stated that they will confirm 3 days b4 my departure date. Never ever use this option town again.

  9. Dear Colin,

    Greetings from Optiontown!

    We apologize for the delay in response. Your feedback would be very much appreciated to continually improve our services.

    If you provide us with your Booking reference or Optiontown Confirmation at customercare@optiontown.com we shall be glad to look into your issue and get back with the most suitable solution.

    We thank you for sharing your valuable feedback and look forward to serve you again.

    Regards
    Optiontown

  10. Scam. Optiontown does not return your money. If you do not get the upgrade, you have to dispute the transaction.

  11. My experience with optiontown was surely positive. I got the notice that the upgrade was honoured four days before departure. My flight was from Cairo to Toronto on Egyptair. Egyptair is not on their published list of participating airlines but apparently optiontown has an agreement with the airliner. I wonder what other airlines participate in the program and are not listed in the website. An up date from optiontown would be very helpful.

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