Tiger Airways must be wondering what it has to do to give away free flights — or get free advertising — and its competitors will be asking themselves the same questions.

Yesterday it offered tens of thousands of free seats for domestic flights for nothing more than the levies, taxes and internet credit card booking fee.

Somewhere between $19 and $41 per Tiger flight.

Unlike the good old days of bargain flight hysteria there was no flurry of free media. No meltdown of the booking server. The stunt is flat lining.

Which isn’t good news for Jetstar, Virgin Blue or Qantas either, or the tourism operators desperate for more visitors.

Maybe the only way to get people to take a free flight is to offer them petrol, airport parking, grocery vouchers and a complimentary tent.

The Tiger fare flop (which might un-flop, but the early signs aren’t good) is being mirrored all around the world as the reality sinks in for airlines. Flying for “fun” or leisure is a discretionary expenditure that is being turned off like a tap by worried consumers.

Qantas and Virgin Blue have reason to be only slightly less concerned, because most of their revenue comes from frequent business travelers, who in some cases will have to continue flying, if less frequently.

But leisure flying, the bread and butter of true low cost, jam-em-in carriers like Tiger, is on hold.

The assumption LCCs continue to make is that they are newsworthy and reports about their price stunts will make page one. The CEO of the Tiger group of airlines, Tony Davis, boasted 13 months ago, just before the Australian venture took off, that the first year of operations in SE Asia had an advertising spend of $SIN 20,000, or the equivalent of a few double column display ads buried toward the back of a major newspaper.

But the media has lost interest. Which is why Jetstar and Tiger began trying to enrol their customers into data base push marketing through “exclusive” email offers. Which may not be working any better than those for Vi-gra, or fake “genuine” watches and accessories.

Low cost fare offers also backfire where the airline concerned tries to manipulate the on-line booking process to match the customer with a much more expensive return fare.

Most consumers are smart enough to hunt for bargains on the other airlines for that other flight.

Peter Fray

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