Malaysian no-frills airline AirAsia has launched the first text-based ticketing service. The SMS service is currently available to the three million subscribers to Malaysia's Maxis mobile phone network.

AirAsia has already cashed in on the savings to made using the internet to handle bookings, with 45 percent of ticket sales being made online. But attempts to grow this figure have been hampered by the country's low internet access figures — only 12 percent of the 23 million inhabitants are online according to figures published by analyst GartnerG2.

So the benefits of pushing ticket sales via mobile phones is clear — this cheap, simple method can reach the 42 percent of Malaysians who own mobile phones. A typical booking takes just eight text messages, charged at around 2p each.

Other airlines may be keen to copy this clever idea but, apart from the country's high mobile phone dependency, GartnerG2 says that AirAsia has several other factors working in its favour when it comes to implementing SMS bookings.

Firstly it operates a small network of domestic routes, which means booking information can be kept simple enough to suit the format. Secondly, it already uses SMS messages to alert customers to special offers, so the addition of text-based bookings makes it easier for people to make impulse buys.

But there are some pitfalls with this type of system that the airline must work to avoid, according to GartnerG2's Mark Risley. AirAsia needs to address the issue of passengers having to pay for each search they do, regardless of whether they find what they are looking for or not.

Risley also wonders how customers will be taught to use the service, as so far instructions are only available online, which isn't much help to the many non-web users. AirAsia must also ensure the service is safe, or users won't be happy to send credit card information via text.

These cautions aside, Risley describes the move as "a bold initiative and an innovative service", anticipating European airlines will follow suit since 15 percent of adults over here use text but not the net.

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