5 years ago

Social media touchdowns in airline loyalty

NB: This is a guest article by Bram Hechtkopf, vice president of business development & marketing, Kobie Marketing

(This is the second of two articles on loyalty in the travel and airline industries with the first published yesterday).

Passenger surveys repeatedly confirm what should be obvious: a positive travel experience is the most important aspect of any flight.

While often that has come to mean the little things – on-time percentage, zero re-booking fees, increased legroom, free wifi, a positive travel experience is also impacted by the ease of which the end user is engaged in an omni-channel loyalty experience .

All the while, airlines must continue to balance fee-based ancillary revenues and value-add service-based ancillaries.

More often than not, airlines are looking to social media and its multiple access points: smartphones, tablets, seatback IFE, phablets, kiosks, laptops, and even desktops to impact the customer experience. The secret to delivering omni-channel loyalty is engaging the traveler at each touch-point– across the travel ribbon.

The more a traveler is engaged via these touch-points and throughout their travel experience in a seamless, unobtrusive manner, the better the odds that loyalty will ensue.

Social media is an ideal way to drive meaningful passenger experiences, in a way that adds value. Coupled with value added freebies (such as access to directions or estimated taxi cab fares at a destination), it can be used to incentivize options that passengers will willingly pay for and can easily include non-mileage-based rewards. This is very much the future of where airlines and their FFPs are looking to go.

A few examples include: free wifi, mobile shopping mall access, seat upgrades through gamified loyalty programs, access to exclusive hotel or destination amenities and travel arrangements.

Here’s another for instance: imagine you fly United Airlines and achieve top tier status – a status that Hilton Hotels cross recognizes. That’s the kind of next level customer engagement we’re expecting to see in the coming years.

The first part of our article series discussed JetBlue and its continuing efforts to encourage enhanced customer loyalty through social media and mobile ad campaigns. Others, like American Airlines, boast nearly 400,000 Twitter followers and according to Darren Booth, produces a pleasant back and forth communication that doesn’t feel like an automated response and is, “downright enjoyable.”

In terms of social media and miles-less rewards, Virgin America is already taking additional steps. Roaming its new San Francisco Terminal  (T2) home armed with smartphones, passengers were asked to search for new amenities/services and “check in” via Foursquare. Upon announcing their location on Facebook and Twitter, participants were awarded badges for redeemable prizes.

Another example is Estonian Air, which launched AirScore, a virtual loyalty program that grew on the carrier’s Facebook flight booking integrated service in 2010, called Flight Book. AirScore brand ambassadors share Estonian offers or information on their Facebook wall and in return for their efforts, are rewarded non-miles perks like upscale dining.

Soaring to Sky High Success: 2013 and Beyond

These examples prove that new technology can take loyalty beyond the existing FFP paradigm. Ultimately, studies show that passengers are willing to use social media in the following ways: check-in to locations, provide positive feedback about an airline, contribute to ideas on the airline’s social media page, recommend the airline to a friend, become the airline’s brand ambassador, or tweet about the airline.

Linking these desires to both miles and non-mile based rewards in a “hybrid solution” approach is critical moving forward. Rather than offering social media interaction for free, airlines must merge this access (through opt-ins) with their loyalty programs and perhaps consider a low entrance cost.

And by staying in the points vs. currency framework, when new loyalty programs are introduced, they are not subject to being taxed – a very real possibility that has many in the airline industry worried as it risks a fundamental change in the way consumers view their loyalty programs.

As we close 2012, airlines, legacy carriers and LCCs alike, must embrace social media and smartphone-backed technologies as well as their data-gathering potential. That’s where consumers are going and where loyalty programs have the greatest chance of breaking beyond FFP confines.

There’s no doubt frequent flyer programs will remain vital to the industry. But a sole source of loyalty revenue is a risky place to be. The airline industry may have temporarily become the collective students in this era of mobile loyalty, learning from their hotel and retail “pupils.” But it’s a subservient holding pattern that’s likely to change faster than jets can fly…It’s high time a new type of airline loyalty takes off, the seeds of which have already been sown.

NB: This is a guest article by Bram Hechtkopf, vice president of business development & marketing, Kobie Marketing

NB2: Football image via Shutterstock

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About the Writer :: Viewpoints

A founding principle of tnooz was a diversity of viewpoints from across the spectrum. Viewpoints are articles by guest contributors from around the travel and hospitality industries.



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