Airline marketing gone stupid

Here’s the thing about marketing – it only works when you’re actually able to effectively convince someone that they need to buy what you’re selling. And one of the first steps in that process should be to actually understand what you’re selling and how much it costs. Apparently the folks sending emails at OnePass missed that memo this week, at least if the email I just received is any indication.


It is amazing, really, that 255,712 miles might only just be enough points to make it to select cities in Asia. They don’t even mention which cabin of service, but that is actually enough for two business class tickets to anywhere in Asia. I guess if you "select" all cities served by Star Alliance of them that still counts as "select cities" in their world?? Oh, and it is also more than enough for a trip to Australia or New Zealand, unless I’m flying up front at the rule-buster levels; no need to actually buy more.

It is crap like this that gives marketing a bad name.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


  1. There’s nothing wrong with the marketing. This is NOT a “customized” email. It’s just a generic email with your name, miles inserted .

    It’s just a email to get you start thinking. I dont see anything wrong with that.

    1. But it is a customized email. The destination region listed change based on how many points are in your account. I’ve received a number of them and they have previously featured destinations that were relevant to my balance, particularly when it was much lower. But to suggest that I need to buy more miles to fly to Oz when I actually have way more than enough is stupid. They screwed up there. Ditto for the “select cities” part, given that I actually have enough points for almost any reward the program offers. Unless they’re using that to cover for possible lack of partner inventory or something it doesn’t make sense.

      I like the idea of a packaged trip, Mark, but I think they’d run into trouble with shifting inventory issues. Then again, they don’t seem to have issues advertising certain dollar amount fares and noting limited inventory so I suppose that isn’t as big a concern for them.

  2. I’m with Jo, what’s the big deal? Or are you just more aware of these kinds of thing than the average fly-twice-a-year person?

  3. I saw this and thought it would actually be an excellent opportunity for a targeted offer to those within certain bands of miles. Those with enough miles could get an offer for a “pre-made” trip, or the option to go online and choose other cities. This could be done to different levels and destinations based on what band (and maybe even travel history) the person has.

    For example, if they had pre-assembled a “Trip for Two” and a “bring the kids” trip to Beijing from New York, including a hotel choice built into one all-miles price, I might just be willing to consider taking them on one of these offers.

    Just looking on CO’s site (not trying to maximize value), I see non-stop BusinessFirst flights for 120k+$10 RT. It looks like points redemption for 6 nights in a nice hotel would be between 100k and 250k miles.

    If they sent me a directed offer with a pre-set package to Beijing, for two, at around 275k-350k miles, I might actually consider that.

    Couple it with a good promo of the destination – wrapping up some reviews and planned itineraries – and marketing it as a quarterly or yearly sort of thing I could expect, then I, as a lazy vacation planner wanting to impress my wife with a spontaneous trip (but without the time to put it together on my own) might just on that rather quickly. I might even look forward to the quarterly email offering some prepackaged trip to a destination that sounds familiar but which I had never visited.

  4. When I said “not customized”, I was referring to : it’s a email sent to everyone with the DATE, and MILES inserted. Hence, I dont considered it “customized”.

    Continental used the phrase “select cities” because, like I said in the above paragragh, it’s a email with the “dates and miles inserted”, and some people may not have enough miles, hence the generic email said, “select cities”.

    As to your complaint on Continental suggesting “buying miles”, may be some people want to travel more cities, or may want to book several tickets. Therefore, they suggest the option of buying miles. I dont see anything wrong with that.

    In short, it’s just a generic email.

    1. It includes my name, mileage balance and available destinations based on that number of miles. I’d say that’s pretty well customized. And there is no reason to suggest that I have to buy miles if I have enough for the award that they’re trying to sell me. It says I need to buy more miles to get a seat down under when, in fact, that is wholly false.

      I consider that bad marketing.

  5. You missed the purpose of the e-mail or is ignoring it hehe…
    Its purpose is to let you burn your miles dude; that is all :-).

  6. @ Seth

    I also received similar email. The only difference is my name, number of miles are different than yours. Unfortunately, I deleted it already.

    That’s why I think it’s just a “master” email with name, and miles insertion.

    I certainly would NOT go that far as to say it’s bad marketing.

  7. Simply emphasizing business class, scaling the marketing to 2+ tickets, and tweaking the buy miles message slightly would go a long way.

    Then again, someone holding on to that many miles and not interested in the message is much more likely than others to have a specific use planned.

  8. I think they have to protect themselves against the possibility not all flights have seats available, whether at saver or anytime rates.

  9. Seth, I think the difference is that it’s a ‘segmented’ email, not a truly ‘customized’ email. They probably carved out 3-5 different creative versions by mileage bucket, and then populated the variable data (your name, mileage) into it. Yours obviously is the top tier, and you blew through the minimum needed to qualify for that segment, so it could begin to look silly to you.

    In short, this is a relatively simple way for them to make these emails more customized than just blanket mailing a single version. Some amount of missed opportunity? Sure. Did their lawyers get involved with the copy and force qualification of the language? You bet. But this still probably gets them 90-95% of the way to as customized as they need to be.

    Anyway, that’s just the $0.02 of a marketer who is behind the scenes on this kind of thing all the time.

    1. I mostly understand the segmentation stuff. I guess I just don’t get why they didn’t bother to actually identify all the segments properly and tailor content to them. Seems like a mistake to me.

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