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A smart deal: Virgin America+Groupon+Chicago

Groupon's the hottest company to come out of Chicago in years. Virgin America is launching new routes to Chicago. A Groupon deal on a Chicago Virgin flight is a great idea as long as it doesn't get botched.

Caroline McCarthy Former Staff writer, CNET News
Caroline McCarthy, a CNET News staff writer, is a downtown Manhattanite happily addicted to social-media tools and restaurant blogs. Her pre-CNET resume includes interning at an IT security firm and brewing cappuccinos.
Caroline McCarthy
2 min read
Virgin America, an airline that's generally in favor of all things futuristic, is turning to daily-deals site Groupon as a promotion for its latest route. (This photo is from a Virgin America party last year.) Caroline McCarthy/CNET

This is a well-thought-out move: Low-cost air carrier Virgin America, which has attempted to court passengers with a tech-savvy offering since its 2007 launch, announced today its initial service from San Francisco and Los Angeles to Chicago's O'Hare International Airport. To drum up online chatter, it partnered with Chicago's company of the moment--Groupon.

Groupon users can purchase $77 worth of Virgin America credit for $7 on the massive group-buying site, with the caveat that it can only be used on the airline's new Chicago routes. Given the amount of positive buzz for a brand

that can arise when it runs a solid deal on Groupon or one of its competitors (though a botched deal can generate phenomenal negative buzz as well) the Virgin-Groupon deal is a fitting and geographically appropriate means of promotion.

(The fine print: it can only be used for economy-class round-trip fares through November 15, travel must be booked by May 25, and blackout dates apply.)

With the eccentric British billionaire Richard Branson as the face of the airline, Virgin America has added perks like in-flight Wi-Fi and a fancy touch-screen in-flight entertainment system to attract digitally inclined travelers who tend to cluster around its home base of San Francisco and are fed up with typical airline industry headaches and discomforts. It hasn't all been successful: A much-touted inaugural international route, from San Francisco to Toronto, was cut after several months due to low demand, with new routes to Dallas and several Mexican resort cities added in its place.

At the same time, though, the young airline turned a profit for the first time late last year, quelling some of the skepticism about whether geeky bells and whistles could drive up unnecessary costs.