Commentary

Sights On New Heights: Elevating Travel Loyalty

The travel industry is undergoing a transformation. While frequent-flier miles and tiered loyalty programs were once the key to consumers’ hearts, travelers are increasingly craving the cheapest price, deprioritizing points in favor of lower fares. As booking sites like Hopper and Google Flights place a further emphasis on price, and disruptors like Airbnb become a household name, legacy travel brands must consider how to drive excitement among travelers and redefine loyalty at all phases of the consumer journey.

Whether an airline or a cruise ship, hotel or ride-share, travel brands can boost loyalty by placing a greater focus on brand partnerships, providing thoughtful customer service, and creating digital strategies that offer heightened engagement. Here are some ways to help a refined program take flight.

Partnerships & Coalition Programs

There is power in numbers and when it comes to loyalty offerings, teaming up with other travel players can create value for both consumers and brands. To boost offerings, brands should consider coalition loyalty. These multi-company rewards programs allow consumers to earn currency across brands, accelerating the time it takes to earn a reward and streamlining the experience to a single card.

Expedia and Enterprise are leading the charge as Plenti partners, allowing consumers to earn by booking vacations and car rentals and then redeem points for a variety of discounts and rewards. By partnering with others in the industry, travel brands can create end-to-end experiences that acknowledge every touchpoint of travel while granting flexible rewards for deal-savvy customers.

Outside of coalition programs, partnerships remain a powerful differentiator. An industry staple, airline-specific credit cards are now embracing millennials and casual travelers with no-fee options. Meanwhile, Starwood Hotels and Delta have seen success with their Crossover Rewards Program, which rewards Medallion and Starwood Preferred Guest members Starpoints and miles for their patronage and offers exclusive perks for top-tier guests.

Many other notable partnerships that focus on rewarding users for the way they travel are popping up as well. Starwood teamed with Uber, encouraging travelers to link their accounts and double Starpoints for using Uber during their trips — and a Starpoint for every $2 spent the rest of the year. Delta paired up with Lyft to allow users to earn Skymiles for every $1 spent on rides, and bonus miles for airport trips. Delta also looked to capitalize on Airbnb’s success by allowing members to earn miles for dollars spent there, too.

Customer Service & Social Good

In the past, travelers were often forced to choose between lower costs and exemplary service. However, low-cost airline carriers like Joon, an offshoot of AirFrance, are changing the dialogue. Targeted at millennial travelers, Joon strives to be a lifestyle brand in addition to an airline, showcasing more fashionable uniforms and offering attractive perks, including a partnership with Airbnb and over 60 snacks — a third of which are organic.

While Joon works to cut costs — instead of seat back screens, for example, passengers can stream movies and television shows on their own devices — it operates with a human touch, finding ways to elevate the in-flight experience and deliver low-cost options to consumers without skimping on the standard levels of service.

Social good is another important loyalty driver. As the country prepared for Hurricane Irma, airlines like JetBlue and American Airlines were applauded for capping fares to ensure impacted travelers could affordably get home at the last minute. Other travel brands took a similar approach following Hurricane Maria; Delta donated to relief efforts while Royal Caribbean sent a cruise liner of goods to Puerto Rico. And many airlines offered to match consumer donations or rewarded those donations with bonus miles.

Transparency & Timely Communication

When it comes to loyalty, something as simple as transparency remains a vital tool. Sending a notification that alerts travelers when their luggage is safely loaded onto the plane — or the exact carousel where they can pick it up — is great way to ease passenger anxiety. Similarly, travel brands should also leverage SMS and push notifications to alert audiences of any potential friction — from airport construction and TSA wait times, to flight delays and changes.

And all travel providers should strive to make contacting them simple, accessible, and stress-free, no matter where they are in the booking or travel process. Travelocity, for example, offers 24/7 customer support via Facebook or Twitter. Open communication not only removes common hurdles, but builds loyalty by demonstrating travelers can rely on a brand even during their most stressful moments.

Whether a consumer is at the planning stage of a business trip or 36,000 feet in the air, every phase of the travel experience has potential to instill loyalty. In a sea of competition, travel brands must consider the experiences that are most attractive to their core audiences and find ways to make them memorable. From can’t-miss partnerships to a sense of empathy, these strategies can further bridge the gap between brand and consumer and ensure their next journey is one they won’t forget.

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