Competition for air travel is fierce. Especially when it comes to wooing business travelers. An interesting fact that recently came to light is that the most desirable customers are not necessarily those that have flown the most miles. Airlines have realized this and have changed how rewards and statuses are earned. You see, flying longer distances doesn’t necessarily equate to more revenue. The airlines want to capture those lucrative business travelers that book last minute and end up paying full fare, rather than those that book months in advance and capture sale-priced fares. These last minute bookers bring the most revenue.
In the past, status was rewarded by miles travelled. However, this has now changed. In fact, American Airlines just became the last of the three major airlines to revise the way status and perks are awarded. It is now based on how much money is spent, rather than miles flown.
This recent article on Yahoo Travel relays a viewpoint that airlines have inadvertently created an elitist group of travelers. The thought process is that this is due to loyalty program promises that the airlines sometimes cannot quite live up to. Despite all of the red carpet treatment – Luxury Porsches to shuttle fliers to connecting flights; swanky exclusive airport clubs; etc., there are times when there just isn’t an open first class seat available for a customer upgrade. When that situation happens, airlines have found that this sub-group of elitist travelers attacks with their loyalty cards. They try to out trump each other with status level or threats. The article is quite interesting in how it explains the mentality that the airline’s loyalty programs have created, simply based on how it has been structured and presented to customers. There are certainly a few loyalty program inspired horror stories contained in it.
Loyalty programs have become an expected norm by consumers due to their mass adoption by most major retailers. As such, in many cases they have lost the very essence with which they were intended – to make that loyal customer feel special and appreciated. If we’re to take a lesson from the airline’s faux pas, what is the answer then? How, through our loyalty programs, do we show our customers that they matter to us, that they are important and that we value their loyalty?
Well, one thing that always works is to keep in those basics of customer service. I hear more and more these days about the importance of the customer experience. Show them that they matter by offering exceptional service. Offer meaningful and relevant rewards. And go the extra mile when you know it can transform someone’s experience into one that’s truly exceptional.