Why Personalized Experiences are Key to Airline Loyalty

Sep 23, 2013

Why Personalized Experiences are Key to Airline Loyalty - 2It’s no secret that for airlines, the most valued fliers are those who accumulate the most miles flown per year, spend the most on tickets and make generous use of their ancillary services – on or off the plane. Call them an airline’s cash cows: losing their loyalty could negatively impact profits at a time when other industry variables like fluctuating fuel costs, low cost carrier competition and mergers threaten to create additional turbulence.

That’s why the notion of “personalization” has become so important. Only by delivering passengers timely and relevant incentives that speak to their needs delivered on the channels they prefer, will the loyalty experience be satisfying enough to drive long-term engagement.

And one of the best ways airlines drive loyalty is by wedding elements of personalization into ultra-exclusive tier structures. These are tiers barely publicized on airline’s website and whose membership requirements are purposely kept undisclosed in an effort to build mystery, excitement and a feeling of I want in.

Case in point: United Airlines and its ultra-elite Global Services program, an invitation-only service available to travelers who fly hundreds of thousands of miles per year. What does personalization look like at this level? A recent Wall Street Journal article offers a compelling glimpse:

  • Travel between connecting flights in luxury cars; bags already stowed
  • More than 400 airline employees across 60 airports tracking Global Service member flights watching for delays in order to anticipate arrival snags
  • No terminal or security lines and ticket agent first-name greetings with already-printed boarding passes
  • Personal assistants, in-airport letter mailing, suit pressing and button ironing.

Beyond United’s latest loyalty initiative, many offers to elite tiers focus on experiences. These can include tickets to sporting events and concerts, wine tastings and gourmet events, arts and cultural festivals – there’s really no limit to the breadth of experiences out there. But excessive tiering can have drawbacks, too. Make perks too exclusive and others may feel left out.

That’s why the airline loyalty experience works best if customer rewards program exclusivity is paired with creativity. Encouragingly, such creativity was displayed in abundance at the recent Future Travel Experience convention in Las Vegas. Allegiant Air, for instance, is experimenting with expanding its in-flight inventory to include cowboy hats on trips to Texas. Qantas, meanwhile, is working hard to learn everything about its passengers’ right down to the names of pets.

Other airlines are going ever further:

  • Brazil’s TAM Airlines “Commandant Kid” program where children help flight attendants wheel carts down aisles to help keep them occupied.
  • Flight attendants on Air New Zealand read bedtime stories, while Emirates has recently launched a squadron of “flying nannies.”
  • Japan Air Lines is offering a curtained off “women’s only” area for flights from Tokyo to Honolulu to allow women to breastfeed children or apply makeup, reducing long lavatory lines.
  • Canada’s WestJet created Tray Vu – tray tables specifically designed for tablets.

In each of these examples, you can see creativity and exclusivity working well. But when it comes to personalization and relevant rewards practicality speaks volumes, too.

Which brings me to my final point…

Considering how web-enabled and reliant on connectivity passengers and elite travelers have become, it makes sense to broaden creative and exclusive content offerings via reliable, low-cost high speed WiFi. It will be interesting to see how Virgin America’s partnership with GoGo, an inflight connectivity provider works out.

GoGo is promising to deliver the first high speed in-cabin Internet access at 60Mbps called GTO, to help airlines personalize new offers regardless of whether their passengers are elite fliers or just your average Jane or Joe.

How else can airlines personalize their offerings to create a better experience for their passengers? Tell us what you think in the comments below or email us at info@kobie.com.