Three keys to making loyalty programs work for the airline brand of the future

In the last two months, I traveled on a dozen different airlines, in three continents. Each with a different loyalty program. And each just a difficult to understand for the so-called “elite” traveler. It seemed that while trying to please an ever-increasing variety of travelers, airlines were creating a veil of confusion before the traveler even signs up for the program.

So then, what should an ideal frequent flyer program look like to make it truly work for the airline brand? Taking inspiration from the best loyalty programs in the world, as well as my own observations from the two conferences in Miami I spoke at last week, here are some thoughts.

What would make me a loyal traveler with an airline?

    1. Simplicity – How often do you know exactly what you can redeem from the points earned from your next flight? What if it was as simple as for every $1 spent, you will be able to redeem $0.01 off your next ticket or a partner purchase? I think keeping the earning-burning process as simple as possible would attract many more customers for the airline’s loyalty programs, than currently possible. I think Westjet’s new loyalty program s doing a good job at this.
    2. ComparabilityMost travelers these days are part of multiple loyalty programs. When I choose to be “loyal” to an airline, I would love it if at the time of booking, I’m shown how many miles I’d earn on that specific flight, as compared to the competing airlines (which I can choose), and what can I redeem those for? This would boost retention, because more customers would “stick” to your loyalty program, than others’. I’m yet to see an airline that does this well.

  1. Extensibility of benefits to beyond the airport and the plane – Currently, benefits are concentrated in priority security lines at airports, airline lounges and optional upgrades in-flight. How about cultivating new touch-points in the travel life cycle where the elite travelers are pampered online and offline before even traveling. How about allowing them to earn points if they “check-in” on Foursquare at the airline office, or building a travel app like Lufthansa’s MySkyStatus that offer true value to the customer? Airlines like Qantas (screenshot above) and Etihad are venturing in this space.

So, what’s your favorite FFP and why? What would your ideal FFP would look like? One that can be offered by LCCs as well?  Let’s discuss in the comments or over on Twitter (@simpliflying)

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Shashank Nigam

Shashank Nigam

Shashank Nigam is the CEO of SimpliFlying and a globally sought-after consultant, speaker and thought-leader on airline branding and customer engagement strategy. He is also the youngest winner of the Global Brand Leadership Award and has addressed senior aviation executives globally, from Chile to Canada and from Sydney to San Francisco. Shashank's perspectives have found their way into major media outlets, including CNN Travel, CNBC, MSNBC, Bloomberg UTV, Mashable and in leading publications like Airline Business, ATW, Aviation Week, and others. Shashank studied Information Systems Management and Business Management at Singapore Management University and Carnegie Mellon University. Hailing from India, he splits his time between Singapore and Vancouver, among other cities.
Shashank Nigam
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Showing 3 comments
  • Yvette Scott
    Reply

    I have a FF card for each of the Alliances BA, BD and AF, I also have VS and EK. The two main carriers I use are BA and VS, of which the Virgin FFP is, what I believe is the most user/flyer friendly. The website is easy to use and within my first year of flying with Virgin I achieved Silver Status, and even with limited flying I've been able to retain Silver for the last three years, unlike BA, which I've been a member of for over 10 years. The Virgin FFP website is easy to navigate and makes redeeming miles extremely easy, and as a passenger you don't want to spend time, searching for information, you want to be able to access it easily and this I believe is what Virgin allows you to do.

  • Pasqualina Petruccio
    Reply

    If there is one subject that l get asked more question and complaints on it is loyalty scheme's, they really are the pain of my profession, l don't think a week goes by without someone asking me a question regarding this matter.

    Some loyalty schemes are so difficult to comprehend, claiming rewards require a double degree in maths and economics, x amount of points, will get you to the next level, but only if you fly x amount of time or x amount of miles; if you fly on x day it will cost xx amount of points, but if you fly on the 3rd Sunday in xx it will cost only x points.

    From my experience clarity and simplicity are they key factors to ff engagement. The sooner all of the airlines / alliances adopt a simple, user friendly, comprehensive program the happier l will be and so will all ff.

    Frequent travelers should be reward by airlines for their loyalty, and l believe this should also apply to the LCC's, the LCC's could offer reward points for free meals or drinks, or a discount on flights.

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