Airlines and Hotels: Tiered Omnichannel Loyalty Done Right

Jul 22, 2013

For the past 23 years, business scholars at Wichita State and Purdue universities have been analyzing the performance of US airlines based on metrics such as percentage of on-time arrivals, mishandled bags and consumer complaints about overselling, reservation issues and service to disabled passengers.

However, even though frequent flyers are airlines’ highest-value customers, issues related to loyalty programs don’t have much of an impact in the Airline Quality Rating Report: they’re relegated to the “other” category on the list of 12 customer complaint types. That’s quite surprising, since airlines (and their travel industry partners, hotels) are among the companies that do loyalty best. And this is particularly true about tiered programs.

Take, for example, the world’s second-oldest frequent flyer program, American Airlines’ AAdvantage. And just in case you’re wondering: the first frequent flyer program was launched in 1979 by Texas International Airlines which then merged into Continental Airlines in 1982.

AAdvantage offers members an omnichannel experience, with a mix of tangible and status-based rewards. Members can earn miles by booking on AA and the other members of the OneWorld Alliance as well as over 10 other partner airlines. They can also earn miles by booking hotel stays, rental cars, vacation packages and cruises with a wide variety of partners and access bonus miles through limited-time deals.

All members of AAdvantage, which won Program of the Year in the Americas category at the 2013 Freddie Awards, can also redeem their miles with most of the program’s partners as well as give miles as gifts or to charity. They also have the ability to bid on exclusive VIP experiences such as plush outings to high-profile sporting events, star-studded awards shows and the like.

The program’s elite members also get plenty of special perks that include:

  • Complimentary access to exclusive Preferred Seats and Main Cabin Extra
  • Priority Access security screening and boarding
  • 100% mile bonuses for Platinum and Platinum Executive members
  • Unlimited complimentary upgrades for Platinum Executive members

Other great programs that offer these types of status-linked benefits include Delta’s SkyMiles and United Airlines’ MileagePlus. As I mentioned earlier, hotel chains such as IHG and Marriott International also have excellent tiered multichannel programs that reward members not just with points, but with memorable experiences. And members can access and manage their memberships through multiple channels including mobile.

At Kobie, we often speak of omnichannel loyalty as an enterprise-level initiative to drive, track, measure and reward incremental behavior throughout the enterprise and customer experience. But it’s important to remember omnichannel is as much about consumers’ mindset as it is about their preferred channel of engagement. American, Delta, United and many others have clearly taken this lesson to heart and put it into practice as a model for other airlines – as well as other – verticals to follow.

As the peak summer travel season unfolds, let’s see what new offerings and additional passenger engagement tactics American and other North American carriers have waiting in the wings.

Are you a member of the programs I’ve referred to? How would you rate your experience? And what would you tell the airline or hotel’s loyalty director?  Share your thoughts with the Kobie community in the section below.