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Testing Theories of Scarcity Pricing in the Airline Industry

Author

Listed:
  • Steven L. Puller
  • Anirban Sengupta
  • Steven N. Wiggins

Abstract

This paper investigates why passengers pay substantially different fares for travel on the same airline between the same two airports. We investigate questions that are fundamentally different from those in the existing literature on airline price dispersion. We use a unique new dataset to test between two broad classes of theories regarding airline pricing. The first group of theories, as advanced by Dana (1999b) and Gale and Holmes (1993), postulates that airlines practice scarcity based pricing and predicts that variation in ticket prices is driven by differences between high demand and low demand periods. The second group of theories is that airlines practice price discrimination by using ticketing restrictions to segment customers by willingness to pay. We use a unique dataset, a census of ticket transactions from one of the major computer reservation systems, to study the relationships between fares, ticket characteristics, and flight load factors. The central advantage of our dataset is that it contains variables not previously available that permit a test of these theories. We find only mixed support for the scarcity pricing theories. Flights during high demand periods have slightly higher fares but exhibit no more fare dispersion than flights where demand is low. Moreover, the fraction of discounted advance purchase seats is only slightly higher on off-peak flights. However, ticket characteristics that are associated with second-degree price discrimination drive much of the variation in ticket pricing.

Suggested Citation

  • Steven L. Puller & Anirban Sengupta & Steven N. Wiggins, 2009. "Testing Theories of Scarcity Pricing in the Airline Industry," NBER Working Papers 15555, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:15555
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Severin Borenstein & Nancy L. Rose, 2007. "How Airline Markets Work...Or Do They? Regulatory Reform in the Airline Industry," NBER Working Papers 13452, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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    4. Gale, Ian L & Holmes, Thomas J, 1993. "Advance-Purchase Discounts and Monopoly Allocation of Capacity," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 83(1), pages 135-146, March.
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    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. Alderighi, Marco & Cento, Alessandro & Piga, Claudio A., 2011. "A case study of pricing strategies in European airline markets: The London – Amsterdam route," Journal of Air Transport Management, Elsevier, vol. 17(6), pages 369-373.
    2. Puller, Steven L. & Taylor, Lisa M., 2012. "Price discrimination by day-of-week of purchase: Evidence from the U.S. airline industry," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 84(3), pages 801-812.
    3. Marco Cornia & Kristopher S. Gerardi & Adam Hale Shapiro, 2012. "Price Dispersion Over the Business Cycle: Evidence from the Airline Industry," Journal of Industrial Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 60(3), pages 347-373, September.
    4. Nicolas De Roos & Gordon Mills & Stephen Whelan, 2010. "Pricing Dynamics in the Australian Airline Market," The Economic Record, The Economic Society of Australia, vol. 86(275), pages 545-562, December.
    5. Bilotkach, Volodymyr & Gaggero, Alberto A. & Piga, Claudio A., 2015. "Airline pricing under different market conditions: Evidence from European Low-Cost Carriers," Tourism Management, Elsevier, vol. 47(C), pages 152-163.
    6. Clark, Robert & Vincent, Nicolas, 2012. "Capacity-contingent pricing and competition in the airline industry," Journal of Air Transport Management, Elsevier, vol. 24(C), pages 7-11.
    7. Marco Alderighi & Marcella Nicolini & Claudio A. Piga, 2012. "Combined Effects of Load Factors and Booking Time on Fares: Insights from the Yield Management of a Low-Cost Airline," Quaderni di Dipartimento 171, University of Pavia, Department of Economics and Quantitative Methods.
    8. Seongman Moon & Makoto Watanabe, 2011. "Refundability and Price: Empirical Analysis on the Airline Industry," Working Papers 1107, Research Institute for Market Economy, Sogang University.
    9. Andrew Sweeting, 2008. "Equilibrium Price Dynamics in Perishable Goods Markets: The Case of Secondary Markets for Major League Baseball Tickets," NBER Working Papers 14505, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    10. Marco Cornia & Kristopher S. Gerardi & Adam Hale Shapiro, 2010. "Consumer Heterogeneity and Markups over the Business Cycle: Evidence from the Airline Industry," BEA Working Papers 0056, Bureau of Economic Analysis.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • L1 - Industrial Organization - - Market Structure, Firm Strategy, and Market Performance
    • L93 - Industrial Organization - - Industry Studies: Transportation and Utilities - - - Air Transportation

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