What Allegiant’s “unsubscribe” video reveals about low-cost carriers

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If you happen to be subscribed to Allegiant’s “latest deals” newsletter, and if you happen to try to unsubscribe, you might experience what Tom Plunkett did.

“You have to watch a promotional video for their company and then get the secret code at the end,” he says. “Enter the code into the space provided to unsubscribe.”

Seriously?

“Utterly ridiculous,” adds Plunket. “Could this be illegal?”

Strangely, it’s not. The 2003 CAN-SPAM law doesn’t prevent this kind of opt-out.

The Federal Trade Commission’s guidance for businesses mentions nothing about the precise mechanics of unsubscribing:

Tell recipients how to opt out of receiving future email from you. Your message must include a clear and conspicuous explanation of how the recipient can opt out of getting email from you in the future.

Craft the notice in a way that’s easy for an ordinary person to recognize, read and understand. Creative use of type size, color and location can improve clarity.

Give a return email address or another easy Internet-based way to allow people to communicate their choice to you. You may create a menu to allow a recipient to opt out of certain types of messages, but you must include the option to stop all commercial messages from you.

In other words, Allegiant found a loophole. Gotcha!

But while most of the online complaints about this deceptive way to unsubscribe have stopped here, I think we need to connect a few dots. After all, Allegiant is the same airline that charges for carry-on luggage, and is continually coming up with new fees for its passengers, claiming that people asked for them.

Mmm hmmm.

This is more of an indication of how Allegiant feels about you, the customer. Instead of offering a one-click method for getting off its email newsletter, it forces you to watch yet another commercial message — precisely the kind of message you’ve indicated you don’t want.

So when an airline like Allegiant says people are asking for fees, it kind of makes you wonder: Does it mean “asking” in the same way it thinks people are asking to be unsubscribed from its newsletter?

As in, “Yeah, they’re complaining about our fees now — but they can’t resist our low fares. They’ll be back.”

I have never heard from a customer who wants more fees, just as I’ve never heard from a newsletter subscriber who asked to watch a video to get a secret code to unsubscribe.

That kind of thinking is disingenuous, customer-hostile, and obtuse. And it’s exactly the type of attitude that made Allegiant the worst airline in America.

In an industry that’s been drained of competition by a series of anti-competitive mergers, Allegiant’s confidence that we’ll return sounds a little like the claims made by the managers of the state-owned grocery stores in the Soviet Union.

“They complain,” says the corrupt functionary running the store. “But they’ll be back tomorrow.”

Of course they will. Where else will they go?

Could it be that in a misguided effort to increase competition, we’ve ended up with attitudes that rival those in a discredited command-and-control economy? Maybe the free-marketers out there should stick that in their pipe and smoke it for a while. See how it tastes.

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at chris@elliott.org. Got a question or comment? You can post it on our help forum.

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  • MF

    I can’t recall a snarkier post with your name attached! I’m not sure if this is part of your 2016 New Year’s resolutions or if you have some new direction in mind for your site with more attitude. Either way, I like where you’re taking it, or is snark-praise coming from ‘MF’ anti-praise?

  • KanExplore

    I love Allegiant. Great prices and they drive down the costs for competitors on the same routes too. If you don’t like them, don’t fly them. I couldn’t care less about some silly promotional video or newsletter. Must be a slow day in the complaint world.

  • sirwired

    Allegiant IS the competition; they pile on the fees far higher than the majors, with a lower frequency of service and a poor operational record. In return they offer low fares, and direct flights for the destinations they serve. That sounds like robust competition to me! (If not an option I would personally choose.)

    I’d argue that the compliance with CAN-SPAM is marginal, at best. The rules call for an “easy” internet-based way, and for a variety of reasons, somebody may be unable to view video.

    That said, the FTC is continuously overworked and they are unlikely to take this case.

    On another note, I’m surprised you don’t have an article about Baldanza getting the boot over at the “We Hate Our Customers Even More Than Allegiant and are Proud Of It” airline…

  • 42NYC

    I’ll never fly Allegiant (and theyre prohibited by my corporate travel policy) but their business model is fantastic. Fly from 3rd/4th tier cities to vacation destinations in Florida and the SW. They’re providing non-stop service on mainline aircraft when other airlines would likely involve turboprops and layovers. How else are you going to get from Grand Forks, Nebraska or Bangor, Maine to Orlando without spending 3x the cost and at least twice the time.

    They know they’re catering towards travelers who want low fares above all else and thats the service they provide. And lets be honest here, while customers arent sending Allegiant letters saying “please, give us more fees. we want to pay more money” they are asking for “the lowest fare possible.” If i was a middle class family of 4 making our once in a lifetime pilgramage to Florida from, say, Elmira NY i’d gladly take the low base fare, stuff everything into 2 big suitcases, sit apart from each other, bring our own snacks and use the savings on some nice meals (vs fly Delta, stopping in DTW or LGA, still paying for luggage, food and still sitting in a cramped seat in the back of their plane.

    I dont live in an area served by Allegiant and am fortunate enough that i wont be flying them anyways. BUt I love their business model and so do the bulk of their customers.

  • Jeff W.

    Not the best way to unsubscribe to a newsletter, for sure. Easier way would be to create ain inbox rule to send any e-mails from them directly to Junk or Trash. Almost all software e-mail packages have this. And if you use a web or mobile interface, there is usually an option there.

  • Ben

    If I can’t unsubscribe from a business’s marketing e-mails in two clicks (the link in the e-mail and a ‘confirm’ or ‘remove from all’ type link on the website), I just mark the thing as spam. No reason I should have to re-enter my e-mail address, tell you why I want to unsubscribe, or watch a stupid video.

    If marketers don’t respect a consumer’s attention, I don’t respect their desire to contact consumers.

  • AJPeabody

    If you have a spam blocker as part of your email program or your antivirus or stand alone, mark allegiant as spam. Done. But even better, if many people mark allegiant as spam, all of their emails to anyone using the same program will get treated as spam.

  • Frank Clarke

    “misguided effort to increase competition”.

    Where? What did I miss?

  • Skeptic

    With many email clients, you could also set up an auto-reply sent to multiple corporate email addresses that basically spams them back! For extra points, offer to let the exec office crew “unsubscribe” to your emails if they watch a 30 minute YouTube video of you ranting about their stupid company, or if they refer 10 colleagues to watch the video.

    Use a junk email account for this, of course.

  • Bill___A

    I suggest looking up their isp and filing a complaint with them. Most ISP’s are not very tolerant of bad behavior. Although one can block their emails using spam blockers, that’s not the preferred method. I would not do business with a company that behaves like this.

  • pauletteb

    Plus e-mail programs take note of messages directed to junk/SPAM boxes, which can eventually affect how all e-mails from that sender are handled.

  • JewelEyed

    Hmmm…This might be an ADA issue if the video doesn’t provide a way for a blind user to obtain the code…

  • Michael

    If enough folks who want to unsubscribe use the Gmail Report Spam button due to this practice, Allegiant will have a very unfortunate result of being black listed and placed as Spam themselves. Bad behavior by marketers can be costly in the industry of email marketing.

  • kenish

    The “…they’ll be back…” quote appears twice in the article. Although it’s an indirect quote, it refers to an infamous incident with Spirit Airlines, *not* Allegiant ! Rather deceptive in an article critical of deception !!