The weak dollar is spurring another British invasion, but the only music involved this time will be the holiday jingling of cash registers.
Leeds, England-based airline Jet2.com, a five-year-old discount carrier that serves about 45 destinations in Europe, is taking advantage of the British pound’s strength by launching chartered shopping flights to New York from Northern England in November and December. The airline began advertising the four day, three-night airfare/hotel packages in May, calling them “Christmas shopping breaks,” priced at around $1,400 to $1,700 per person.
So far, the response to those ads has been “brilliant,” said Ian Doubtfire, managing director of Jet2.com.
With the British pound worth about $2, shopping trips to the U.S. represent deep discounts to shopping excursions to London or other European capitals that use Euros.
“We’ve been eyeing New York service for quite a while,” said Mr. Doubtfire. “These trips are definitely predicated upon the weak dollar.”
Britain sends more visitors to New York than any other country, according to NYC & Co., the city’s tourism and convention bureau. About 1.2 million British visitors descended upon the city in 2007, a 6% increase from the prior year. They spent $2 billion – or roughly $1,400 per five-day visit – and that was on trips where other city activities were involved.
“This is a very smart marketing tactic on the part of that airline,” says Christopher Heywood, vice president of travel and tourism public relations at NYC & Co. “They are capitalizing on one of the most popular tourist activities when there’s a weak dollar.”
The airline has worked out weekend packages with the Park Central hotel near Central Park, The Paramount Hotel near Times Square, and Hotel Thirty Thirty near the Empire State Building. Retailers such as Macy’s offer an 11% discount to international visitors.
Jet2.com is starting with the four holiday shopping trips from Leeds Bradford International to Newark Liberty International on November 6th and 13th, and December 4th and 11th. If those flights sell out, the airline will consider adding more. The carrier applied for flight slots at Newark because, as Mr. Doubtfire pointed out, it’s quicker to get to Macy’s from Newark than it is from John F. Kennedy International.
At a time when most airlines are shrinking, Jet2.com is expanding service.
“All this is really a mini-test,” Mr. Doubtfire adds. The airline plans to start regularly scheduled service to Newark next summer.
The carrier is owned by publicly-traded British aviation and distribution conglomerate the Dart Group, which also owns travel agency jet2holidays.com. The company has hedged its fuel investments through next summer, avoiding the disastrous spike in fuel prices currently afflicting most commercial airlines.