Why Aren’t More Airlines Offering All-You-Can-Fly Deals?

With new start-up Surf Air offering all-you-can-fly pricing, will other, more established airlines follow suit?

Surf Air charges a one-time membership fee of $500, followed by $1,650 monthly payments. The six-seat, single-engine turboprops fly between less-used airports in California, such as Burbank and Santa Barbara, with additional destinations being considered for later in the year.

Unlimited travel isn’t unheard of — commuter-train passengers purchase unlimited-use passes every month and Jet Blue offered its popular $499 “All You Can Jet” pass in 2009 and 2010 to great acclaim. So why aren’t more airlines offering it?

American Airlines offered an unlimited lifetime pass for about five years, before abruptly discontinuing it in the early 1990s. The passes, which sold for $250,000 at the program’s start, actually quadrupled in price by the program’s end after American realized how much the unlimited flights were damaging their bottom line. Sixty-six elite fliers had their passes cancelled, sparking several lawsuits.

So, is it possible for an airline to offer an unlimited flight deal? JetBlue seemed to have much success with their plan, limiting the pass usage to one month and the days you could use the pass (unless, of course, you paid extra). JetBlue never released details on the financial success of the All You Can Jet pass, but perhaps it’s telling they discontinued the plan in favor of GoPacks, a 10-ticket pass selling for $699 to nearly $2,500.

So can a small, limited-route all-you-can-fly carrier succeed? Or if your preferred airline offered a monthly unlimited travel pass, would you take advantage if it?