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Just How Much Do Frequent Flyer Programs Matter Anymore?

09/11/2013

Are airline miles really linked to airline loyalty anymore? Just how frayed are the ties that once bound consumer and carrier?

Consider this survey of U.S. flyers from Deloitte. The independent research firm finds, “airline loyalty programs are not as effective as they could be in driving loyalty among their core audience.” That audience, of course, is frequent business travelers, and the study Charting a course for renewed airline consumer loyalty finds 72 percent of them participate in one or more frequent flyer programs; more than a third participate in four or more.

The survey indicates the ‘share of wallet’ for a ‘“preferred carrier is significantly low.” A mere 44 percent of all travelers, and 40 percent of business travelers, fly at least three-quarters of their air miles on their ostensibly preferred carrier. Here’s the kicker: “nearly one-third of business travelers fly fewer than half of their air miles on their ‘preferred’ airline.”

Numbers like that beg the question: where’s the loyalty?

Remember, the genesis of the frequent flyer programs way back in the beginning, in the early days of American Airlines’ groundbreaking AAdvantage program, was to win the hearts and minds of high-revenue business flyers. That’s where most carriers make their money.

Loyalty is, after all, all about allegiance. Yet Adam Weissenberg, vice chairman of Deloitte LLP and U.S. travel and, hospitality and leisure leader, says, “Our research showed that only 38 percent of [survey] respondents had a positive reaction when asked whether they would serve as an airline brand ambassador.” It’s important they do just that, because the frequent business traveler can constitute a carrier’s most effective marketing tool.

So, is there a way to re-forge the visceral connection between carrier and consumer, to make that plastic you pack in your wallet really matter when it comes to choosing an airline? Weissenberg says increasing competition and the pragmatic nature of today’s flyers mean “airlines may need to focus on personalizing the customer experience in a way that makes individual travelers feel special.”

Let us know if your airline has made you feel “special” lately.

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