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The redeeming value of “starting at” offers.

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Most of the time I can’t stand the words “starting at” in marketing.

As a marketer, I know it’s a great way to get someone’s attention. But as a consumer I’m regularly annoyed when I click on such an offer only to find that 99.9% of options are priced much higher.

Speaking of my own behavior, however, I have noticed a redeeming quality about these hooks compared to other ways of resorts communicate lodging/skiing deals.

The Story
Last week I was doing some research for a piece on how lodging offers were promoted on websites. I’d pulled up some random resorts, gone through their pages, found some interesting ideas, and was starting to write when this happened in my head.

Okay, I need some examples to support this point.

Let’s see, there was that early stay for $139…




Let me go back and find those.”

Here I’d looked across a half dozen resort pages containing probably 20-25 different offers, and the only one I could remember was one of those blasted “starting at” campaigns.

Let’s quickly contrast the offer I remembered and one of the 20+ I didn’t:

REMEMBERED: “Early Week Stay: Starting at $139* with lodging and lift tickets. [link]”
DIDN’T REMEMBER: “Book three nights of lodging and lift tickets and the fourth day is FREE! [link]”

What the first does is subtle but important. It takes a complex thing – a ski vacation – and it boils it down to something that’s 3 things simultaneously:

  1. One simple number.
  2. Something I can easily compare with other offers.
  3. A number that’s very “close to checkout”.

That last term is one I just made up, so let me define that before we move on. When I book a ski vacation I’m combining quite a few pieces of information including:

  • Dates
  • Rooms
  • Tickets
  • Rates

Which is important, because here’s how those offers really start to differ.

The first offer (“…starting at $139”) crosses all but the dates off that list. In other words, all I have to do (in theory) is pick my dates and I can check out. Thus, I’m much “closer” to pulling out my credit card from the get go.

The second offer (“…fourth day free”) requires that I coordinate EVERYTHING before I can check out. Not just the dates, but the room, tickets, and rates to earn the discount and, therefore, get to the point I can pull out my credit card.

It’s like the difference between a frozen pizza a homemade one.

Both require a choice of topics before they go in the oven, but one is ready to go in now and the other comes with an asterisk of *some assembly required.

Anecdotal, Take 2
So far this is me deconstructing anecdotal evidence to figure out an explanation for my behavior.

And now I’m going to do the same thing again. Because after I walked myself through this mental exercise, I gave myself one last cranial task: recall all ski+lodging offers I’d seen in the last week.

I thought…and thought…and come up with two.


See a pattern? Hard to miss.

There are dozens of ways to talk about deals. But over and over again I find it’s the ones with a single, specific number that I remember. A number that turns complexity into simplicity and makes me feel very close to turning the idea into reality.

Some anecdotal food for thought.

  • WisSkier

    Having just gone through the process of booking a ski trip (17 days and Whitefish here I come!) that single number is a powerful thing, this is why we say “I’m not just a number”.

    I had the dates set and so it was just a matter of finding the right numbers ($, condo lodging for two, lift tickets, etc).

    I was targeting a single resort (for the most part) and going through the lodging list that is what I was looking at, what is that number. When it came time to book the numbers changed a bit of course the sales agent was doing her job and started with higher numbers and the number on lift tickets changed up. In the end the actual $ number turns out to be close to what my research led me to, I just hope gasoline stays low or goes down some (one can hope) between now and then.

    A retired pilot buddy of mine tells me about those ads saying “Flights to XYZ for $99”, of course what they don’t tell us is there are only a handful of seats available at that rate. We all know this in general, but the number is just too good to ignore.

    It is one of those things that is in reality so simple, so simple we often lose sight of it.

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