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Tweeters or Facebookers could find airline savings

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Carriers are giving discounts to tech-savvy fliers.

September 13, 2009|Terry Gardner

I don't really care what Ashton Kutcher had for lunch, but when it comes to bargains, hold me back. Despite my misgivings that I'd be mired in the minutiae of other people's lives, I've turned to social media -- Facebook and Twitter -- to help me find great deals ahead of the pack.

"If we offer a 24-hour sale, these individuals get the first announcement," says Chris Vary, an American Airlines spokesman.

And, in what may be a boon to the customer experience, airlines are using social media to address customer concerns and answer questions.

"Social media sites like Facebook and Twitter allow travel companies to talk directly to customers, and for us to talk back." says Christopher Elliott, ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine.

Here's a look at how some of the sites are being used.

Twitter: Twitter's 140-character messages, its tweets, offer users virtually instant info on sales and deals.

JetBlue launched Cheeps in early July and tweets its Cheeps on Mondays at www.twitter.com/jetblue cheeps. The deals are valid while supplies last from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Pacific time.

United's version is called Twares -- its bargain fares may be domestic or international -- but there's only one a day, and unlike JetBlue, there is no set time. A recent Tware offered 20% off fall flights "to where U can eat more mussels (in Brussels)." On Tuesdays, United tweets a reminder to check www.united.com for its electronic fares. (Customers told United they wanted less e-mail, so e-fares are no longer e-mailed.)

Southwest will not offer Twitter-only fares "because Southwest wants its fares to be equally available to everyone," says spokesperson Christi Day.

Some airlines are using Twitter to address customer service issues. JetBlue and Southwest have "tweet watchers" who observe and respond to issues involving luggage, flight delays, traffic jams near an airport, etc.

Volunteer JetBlue tweet watcher Gigi Thorsen works in the airline's Salt Lake city reservation center. If someone tweets that there's a long line at security, "I can give the airport a heads up, and let them take it from there," she says. "We try to be a conduit for these types of issues."

Instant information has even led to some instant changes, says Morgan Johnston, a JetBlue spokesperson. When a passenger tweeted about being charged a fee to check his folding bicycling -- even though it was in a suitcase -- "we realized it was a stupid policy and changed it," he says. "If it looks like a suitcase and smells like a suitcase, it gets treated like a suitcase."

Among other active tweeters for deals and information: American, Alaska, Air New Zealand, V Australia, Virgin America, Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Blue.

If you aren't sure whom to follow, visit www.wanderlisting.com, a website dedicated to Twitter and travel to help you find the best tweets to follow for deals and destinations.

But if you are still tweet-phobic, Howcast.com has a video tutorial: www.howcast.com/videos/149055-How -To-Use-Twitter.

Facebook: On Facebook, the 5-year-old social networking site that claims 250 million users, almost half of whom log on each day, users can discover airfare deals and converse with an airline representative -- but they first must become a "fan" of the carrier. (To do so, just search for the airline, and if it's on Facebook, click to become a fan.)

Vary says American's first 10,000 Facebook fans (it now has about 27,000) were rewarded with a 10% discount on a ticket. Recently, a "nameless" fare search widget was added to American's Facebook Travel Bag application, which helps users share travel experiences with friends in their network. But it also posts some fare sales, including a Caribbean sale that ends Tuesday.

Keoni Wagner, a spokesperson for Hawaiian Airlines, said when it joined Facebook three months ago, Hawaiian found fans waiting to connect. Hawaiian already has more than 5,000 fans. It has a co-promotion with Marriott for a Hawaiian vacation contest through Oct. 23.

Southwest, an early arrival to Facebook's party, has almost 77,000 fans. Sales are noted, but the focus is on communication.

"The tone of conversation changes and flows daily on Facebook based on the type of news we may be sharing," Day says.

Southwest employees often jump in and answer questions along with the company's Facebook team.

--

travel@latimes.com

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