It seems that some folks are still in denial about the fact that some customers are more valuable to an airline than others. Then again, it is not common that the CFO of an airline comes out and says it quite so bluntly. United Airlines CFO John Rainey, speaking at an investor conference last week, seemed to have no trouble speaking his mind with regard to the company’s MileagePlus program and the driving forces behind some of the recent changes:
Additionally, we also changed our Mileage Plus program, some of the benefits that accrued to the members…. [W]e had certain groups in this group were over entitled if you will…we have realigned the benefits…and this is a good change going forward….
The philosophy is similarly represented in one of the slides included in the presentation (see the first full line of text):
In both cases the CFO has essentially made it clear that the company is moving towards a different version of defining customer loyalty than the days of yore. No longer is just flying a lot of miles the measure of a good customer. Now customers must also provide value to the company to be desirable and well rewarded. At least that’s the direction the company wants to be moving in.
But is it the right direction?
Once again, this question pits a number of folks who are low revenue, high volume against the company. The company seems quite willing to write those customers off without too much apprehension or concern. Those customers (of which I’m almost certainly one) are simply no longer desirable to the company, likely for being too expensive to service, or for getting in the way of the benefits offered to other less frequent but more profitable customers. Or the company just hates all its customers and wants to go out of business. But that seems less likely.
It is also somewhat interesting to note that every revision or release of a loyalty program I can think of from the past decade has shifted the balance more towards revenue and away from simply miles flown. There’s probably a reason that has been happening.
Perhaps the greatest challenge at this point will be for the company to actually deliver on the better benefits for those whom they see as valuable customers to keep them around. It will definitely be interesting to watch that unfold.
Also in the same presentation was an interesting slide on the benefits of the PSS integration effort which happened in early March:
Of course, all the benefits listed here are for the company, not necessarily to all customers. Still, there are some aspects of these changes which will probably be beneficial for different groups of customers at different points over the coming years. Yet another thing which will be interesting to watch unfold in the coming years.
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