Guest post: How low-cost airlines can create customer loyalty

Guest post: How low-cost airlines can create customer loyalty

By Julian Bonnett, Business Development Manager, Comarch

When you talk about airlines and loyalty programmes, most people think of BA and Avios, rather than easyJet or Ryanair. Increasingly there is a role for loyalty programmes in airlines that compete heavily on price. But the traditional ‘earn and burn’ model that many airlines operate isn’t always right for low-cost carriers.

For a start, flyers may not be frequent enough – or travelling far enough on each flight – to earn enough air miles to make much difference to them. The immediate cost of the airline ticket might be more important than the potential to earn one free short-haul flight in three years time.

That doesn’t mean loyalty doesn’t work. It just means your loyalty programme needs to be more creative.

Partner with people your customers love

With JetBlue, for example, you can earn points by shopping with other partners. So you might earn points by staying in a programme partner hotel, or renting a car, by doing your shopping on affiliate sites, or even by ordering a case of wine.

Keep your airline top of mind

If your customers only fly with you twice a year, you need to find ways to keep your airline top of mind when they’re ready to book. If they’ve been accumulating points with partners, they’ve been thinking of you outside of the flight.

When they come to book, they’ll want to spend those points, which could mean a few pounds off the ticket price, or something they value more than a relatively small amount of money, such as the choice of a seat, a free baggage allowance, the chance of a free drink in the air, or faster check in. This could be the thing that differentiates your airline from another.

Loyalty is a two way street

If you’re going to ask your customers to be loyal to you, you should show them some love in return. What’s special to them? Connect their identity to their preferences – aisle seat or window? Coffee or tea? Email or text? Make it personal, so they feel valued.

Keep it simple

The simpler the programme, the more likely it is to be used. Brussels Air improved its loyalty programme by switching from miles-based rewards to revenue-based rewards. One point for one pound or euro spent makes a scheme easy to understand and rewards easy to track.

Make the experience amazing

All the loyalty programmes in the world won’t make up for a terrible check-in experience, or a grouchy cabin crew. Surprise and delight customers with the occasional upgrade, a pre-booked seat, their favourite newspaper, a personal greeting from the captain, or a surprise gift to keep their children happy on a flight. All these will make a trip start with a smile, and are worth far more to your customer than their monetary equivalent.

Think mobile first

Particularly when flying, people don’t want to be hunting around for vouchers or even loyalty cards that could be buried deep in their hand luggage. A mobile phone should be the device that is the key to your loyalty programme, too.

Make it fun

Gamify your loyalty programme. Give your passengers something to aim for. Whether that’s gold membership based on points (spent with partners, not just with the airline), or unlocking a reward if they book two flights together, gamifying the experience will also make flying that bit more fun, and not just a way to get from A to B.

Loyalty isn’t just about air miles or money. It’s about a total experience and a relationship with an airline. And it’s not just for business travellers, but for leisure travellers too.

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