You asked for it and we listened. In this column, we ask operators of all sizes and from all walks of the industry a question about their business and report their answers so you can assess how your own company compares to your peers. If you would like to participate, please email Rob Smentek at email@example.com for next issue’s question.
TOPIC: With last-minute bookings becoming more common (and difficult to service in the current marketplace), do you institute an ASAP fee? How do you go about “training” these last-minute clients to book in advance whenever possible? How do you artfully address so that you don’t lose future bookings with those clients?
We’ve used dynamic pricing since March 2021, and one advantage of this strategy is that the ASAP fee is already factored into the pricing along with other variables. The client may not always agree, but I believe that it is becoming more acceptable. If they inquire about the rate and feel it is excessive, we then use the analogy of waiting until the last minute to book a flight or hotel room.
Kirk Bagger, CEO
Captains Car Service in Parma, Ohio
Our answer to this last minute (and more occurring) situation is “communication.” We try to beat our customers to the punch. If we see dates that are filled and we are running short on vehicles or chauffeurs, we will send out a “block alert notification.” This notifies customers and gives advance warning that we are very busy on certain dates, and if you need to book, please do it sooner than later. This also does not mean that we cannot service you at all—we may be able to make it work.
We also send out e-mails to let people know that major events are coming up in the area (e.g., The Travers Race at Saratoga Race Course). Customers are notified to book their transportation as soon as possible. I do not feel the ASAP fees work when our main problem is getting a vehicle and chauffeur. Although, most of our clientele would not have a problem paying this fee. With what is going on in the transportation industry in general, I believe that clients are not taking good service for granted anymore.
David Brown, President
Premiere Transportation in Albany, N.Y.
We do not charge an ASAP fee for sedan or SUV airport transfers. We feel that the goodwill of being able to react quickly is profit enough for our long-standing clients. However, we have instilled dynamic pricing with our reservations and sales staff as it relates to last-minute specialty vehicle requests. We either increase the minimums or raise the rates slightly for those reservations—keeping in mind that we do have competitors that will do it for less AND, more importantly, not coming across as if we are gouging the client. We never want to be accused of “selling a generator post-hurricane for 10 time the cost,” but we do need to be fairly compensated for all that goes into last-minute bookings.
Eric Devlin, President/Owner
Premier Transportation Services in Dallas, Texas
We have noticed last-minute requests are more common than before, so we try to have a driver and a vehicle as a backup to help us to cover them. We do not say no to requested services. In cases where our drivers are unavailable, we provide customer with an ETA so they have the option to choose if they would like to wait. In most cases, they decide to wait since they are aware that we are doing everything in our power to provide them transportation even though they are requesting a last-minute service. No ASAP fees are applied since this is part of customer care and service.
Ylse Escamilla, International Market & Roadshow Manager
Alquimavi in Mexico City, Mexico
We are still taking on last-minute reservations daily: this is just what we do and don’t plan on changing anything on our end. I don’t agree with an ASAP fee as some people’s schedule changes and last-minute bookings are just part of the business. So, our plan is to change nothing, keep doing what we do daily and have done for the past 20-plus years.
Matthew Johnson, President
AJL Transportation in Irving, Texas
Last-minute bookings are becoming more common and thus challenging to accommodate. That said, we are not currently instituting an ASAP fee, but we are advising our clients, both current and new, to book us in advance. We kindly inform them that we appreciate their business, we are growing, and continuously trying to be better, but with the market shifting, there are fewer vehicles on standby. We understand at times it is not always possible to book in advance; however, we kindly request they give us ample time so we can continue to provide them with the exceptional service they are accustomed to. We also inform them that to avoid a possible ASAP fee in the future, we recommend sending us their confirmations as soon as they have them. This has worked well for us so far.
Adeel Khalid, Founder & CEO
Royal Stallion Carriers in Dumfries, Va.
Customer behavior has forever changed due to companies like Amazon and Uber. Everyone wants things NOW.
This behavior has intensified in recent years (even before the pandemic) and causes enormous chaos operationally. Unfortunately, I do not think we can change or coach our clients to change their behavior, but the companies that figure this out will be the leaders of tomorrow. We will be implementing a $25 ASAP fee (3 hours or less) starting in August. Unlike Uber and Lyft, our industry is more than a decade behind having an app to compete. Our industry is still highly polarized and certain software companies are holding their customers and industry hostage, but companies like GNET are a big part of the answer to get to a modern-day solution.
Mark Kini, President & CEO
Boston Chauffeur in Beverly, Mass.
We love last-minute bookings! We understand that we need to be flexible and accommodating to the needs of our clients, and we try to help them as much as possible to the best of our abilities. We do not implement ASAP fees because we treat those as possibilities to ensure future positive business partnerships. During the process, we educate our clients on the importance of placing their requests as early as possible, especially for large vehicles. Every situation is different: since we work primarily with large vehicles, we address the shortage of buses available for hire, and as the reason for their predicament. We also offer clients other options, like a combination of vehicles of different sizes to cover their head counts. We stress to them that with a last-minute booking, their scheduled budgets might not be met vs. planning and reaching significant budget savings.
Stefan Kisiov, Managing Partner
K&G Coach Line in Park Ridge, Ill.
My primary market for last-minute bookings is tourists who visit Hilton Head Island. They often think they can get TNCs, which will say “yes”—then ultimately cancel at the last second leaving people scrambling. We institute a last-minute fee of between 20-25 percent on top of our base rates, and people generally do not say a word since they need to make their departing planes. In my marketing, I try to get people to book online but sometimes they just want convenience and get burned in the long run.
Kevin Mullane, Owner
Silver Oak Transportation in Hilton Head, S.C.
There are many reasons to say no to a last-minute request, and I have said no to more people in the last year than in my prior 20 years of business. I ask questions and a valid reason why they need my service to accommodate them. Sometimes I establish a higher rate and a bigger gratuity for my chauffeur. Or, I let them know it's difficult to accommodate last-minute requests, and despite my ability to accommodate, it will not always be the norm. My focus has always been on the scheduled client and the client who is always grateful for the extra effort made on their behalf.
Gerardo Ortiz, Owner
Omglimo.com in Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif.
We try to have a hard stop for reservations less than 24 hours, although with airport service, we can do something with a 2-4 hour warning. We’ve told our event and wedding planners to book early. With difficulty in farming out Sprinter or larger bus work post-COVID, we only take enough work we can handle in-house. We even have had people move their company-building events to meet our schedule. We sometimes send a text or email explaining that we are sold out and suggest a few companies to call. But by implementing a new Lead Quote Close (LQC) system, we are able to do dynamic pricing just like the hotels do.
Jess Sandu, Director of Operations
A&A Limousine & Bus Service in Seattle, Wash.
We live in a McDonald’s, microwave, internet-at-your-fingertips, instant gratification time. I am very quick to let clients know that Wichita is not an on-demand market, nor is it even a near-demand market. So, being completely transparent with these last-minute folks is important to set expectations—whether or not we can help them—in an effort to prevent future ASAP calls. We are setting up our LQC to add fees for last-minute and less-than-24-hour jobs.
AllClassLimo.com in Wichita, Kansas
We’ve loved hearing your answers to our benchmarking questions—but we always welcome suggestions for future topics, too!
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