Air, car, hotel.
That's the classic Big 3 combination of products that members of travel provider loyalty programs see when they are ready to redeem their points/miles/rewards.
But in a landscape crowded with loyalty programs, with wallets bulging with program membership cards, can loyalty plans stand out in the crowd?
Andy Hermo, chief commercial officer at iSeatz, a provider of travel loyalty technology and digital commerce solutions, thinks they can. .
The company’s sweet spot is bringing in lifestyle products and destination activities that enable members to enjoy experiences across their journey -- from the time they book through the trip, and after they return home, said Hermo.
Those options outside the Big 3 might include live events, dining, food delivery and much more that “allows us to enrich customers’ lives," said Hermo.
iSeatz believes the best way loyalty programs can be improved is by giving members a vast array of options -- not just the basics -- as well as dynamic content, activity-based recommendation and, importantly, personalized experiences.
Personalization has become a buzzword for loyalty program managers, according to Hermo. With the advent of AI and machine learning, personalization is becoming real as programs aim to reach the standards set by Amazon for knowing customer preferences.
In an iSeatz survey of 2,000 consumers and 300 companies with loyalty programs, 70% of consumers said that if they received personalized offers, they would feel that the program was delivering on expectations.
Personalization may be desirable, but it can be complicated, said Hermo. For instance, different age groups perceive the value of travel loyalty programs differently. That same survey showed 33% of millennials want programs that help them save on the cost of travel vs. 26% for baby boomers, 27% for Gen X, and 10% for Gen Z. Also, 40% of millennials say they value status perks most in their travel loyalty programs, vs. 19% of boomers. And age is just one of many elements involved in personalization.
Also key to a winning loyalty program is a great user experience. The survey showed that while only 20% of providers felt the user experience is their biggest challenge, 84% of members said the user experience could be improved. Quite the gap. Providers need to create programs that not only incorporate more options in the booking but make it easy and fun, Hermo added.
And after the booking, members might be redeeming points while on their trips for live events or other activities. And there are still more opportunities post-trip. At a time when hotel companies want to be lifestyle companies, providing a fuller experience across the board is key.
Too often, said Hermo, brands have let loyalty programs go stale, despite the fact that most companies seek to increase membership, and brands want their websites -- rather than an intermediary -- to be the first place consumers go to book travel. Marketers have to be targeting “real” personalization or they will be left behind, he added.
One of the most prized travel experiences is a cruise, but I don't think anyone offers cruises in a simple way and at acost of reward points competitive with a cash purchase. This could easily be done if the airlines were supportive and open to innovation.