Airlines look to garner social loyalty from frequent flyers

n.b. – This story first appeared in the APEX Editor’s Blog on 5 November 2013

At one point in the not too distant past airline loyalty programmes were focused on incentivising passengers to take more flights. In recent months, however, many of the airlines have shifted focus. They have discovered that their loyalty programmes can engage customers in a very different manner. Through online interaction and the use of social media, airlines are turning frequent flyers into brand ambassadors and expanding the reach of their loyalty programmes beyond the travel experience.

KLM introduced social seating, allowing its customers to use social media to pick seat mates on some flights. BalticMiles, the loyalty programme for airBaltic, has run online brainstorming sessions with its members, seeking to improve the offerings of the programme, particularly outside of the travel space.

What about taking things a step further? In the marketing world a solid word-of-mouth recommendation from a trusted colleague is better than any advertising campaign. Airline customers talk to their friends all the time, relating their experiences, but it is generally just because they can, not because they are being encouraged to by the airlines. Estonian Air, in partnership with Simpliflying, changed that model.

It may be a small airline but Estonian has big ideas when it comes to engaging with its customers in the digital world. The latest iteration of this effort comes in their AirScore virtual loyalty programme. The company offers up content through its Facebook page and encourages members to share or otherwise promote the information. Reposting promotions or publicizing social and sporting events in Estonia earns points for members. Those points can be redeemed for discounts on travel and also for a variety of non-travel rewards such as dinner with the CEO or an invitation to a company party. These events further tie customers to the programme, strengthening their loyalty.

United Airlines is the largest airline in the world. And, as such, it is a far different beast than Estonian. But that doesn’t mean it can’t try to similarly engage its customers. United has partnered with a company called Bckstgr to build a new points accrual channel for its MileagePlus programme. Members will have the ability to earn points by engaging with specific marketing partners online. This is not just ‘liking’ a post on Facebook or retweeting a message on Twitter. Watching videos, completing surveys or even posting specific phrases on linked online accounts could earn points for members. The United approach appears to be more about leveraging its customer base to build value for other companies rather than just advertising the United Airlines brand. But participating members will still be building ties to United as well given the use of their loyalty points as a payment currency.

Most airline loyalty programmes are still tied to travel at their core. A few are expanding their focus and the results appear to be quite positive thus far. The future for these programmes would appear to be developing online, not just in the air.

Never miss another post: Sign up for email alerts and get only the content you want direct to your inbox.

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.