Delivering in testing times as a travel loyalty professional -
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Delivering in testing times as a travel loyalty professional

Ai Editorial

Senior executives from IAG, Air Canada and Points spoke about key initiatives and lessons learned over the past year or so at Ai’s MegaEvent, writes Ai’s Ritesh Gupta

1st July, 2021

Airlines continue to look for answers to tough loyalty-related questions. All the talk around renewed commitment, including taking the best care of their loyal customers when they travel and sustaining a bond when they don’t, means airlines have had to dig deep to keep their loyalty offering relevant.

In this context, a critical aspect has been how to keep members engaged and at the same time focus on revenue generation, too.

“Managed correctly, loyalty programs should be both – meaningful contributors of short term revenue and drivers of long term engagement,” Erin Murray, Vice President, Marketing at Points told Ai’s Ritesh Gupta.

“During the pandemic we saw this in action- the loyalty program was often the primary source of revenue but since it also acted as a means to keep members engaged when not traveling, the program will accelerate the recovery,” said Erin, who was a part of a panel during the recently held #MegaEvent21. “Every travel brand was put in the position this year to demonstrate whether or not they truly believed that the loyalty program was about cash or long term member value. Across the board- they made choices in favour of engagement. They extended expiry, extended status, maintained strong reward portfolios and didn’t devalue their currency on any broad level. While all of these would have provided varying forms of financial relief, instead they put the member first.” “A true sign that while driving short term cash is important, the real objective of any program is to build and grow customer value,” said Erin.

Being swift

Rob McDonald, Chief Commercial Officer, IAG Loyalty highlighted that it was imperative to act and work with certain speed, something possibly “never done before”.

Nectar and British Airways formed a new partnership earlier this year. For the first time ever, customers who collect Nectar points are given an option to convert their points balance to Avios through the British Airways Executive Club, which can be put towards flights with British Airways, as well as upgrades, hotel stays, car hire and more, stated the company. The partnership turns everyday spending into special travel experiences and help travellers as they think ahead for future trips.

Air Canada also decided to focus on both the aspirational aspect as well as high-frequency shopping categories/ activities to sustain continuous engagement with loyalty program members. Partnerships such as the one with Starbucks gave more opportunities to earn and redeem points in their everyday lives. Plus, the airline continued to let members dream and plan for aspirational destinations/ dream holidays.

Being agile

Any travel company grappling with the impact of Covid19 would say that agility was key to their success, highlighted Derek Whitworth, Managing Director, Marketing and Loyalty Optimization at Air Canada during the same conference. Even as brands tend to focus on relevancy and value as far as their loyalty program is concerned, from the onset of the pandemic airlines realized that they had to convey and assure their customers that they care for them as well. And for this they had to pivot or bring certain changes to their programs, and that’s where agility mattered a lot. For Aeroplan, the idea was to keep things not only simple but fair as well. “Focus was on taking care of members,” said Whitworth.

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