Traveler loyalty is no longer strictly limited to miles or points earned and redeemed. Instead, loyalty is now based on a much bigger and more holistic picture: the level of customer engagement with the brand, the depth of the relationship built, and the customer’s lifetime value.
How Alaska Airlines and Amperity are partnering to address the challenges and opportunities ahead
It’s widely agreed that traveler behavior and spending patterns won’t reflect business as usual for the next 12 to 18 months as travelers make up for lost time. Bucket list trips will be booked, and many people will happily spend more than usual to reunite with their friends and family members. For travel brands, this means that making the most of customer data is going to be more important than ever to engage with travelers and attract, retain, and re-engage loyalty members.
Ahead of Skift's upcoming Loyalty and Subscriptions Summit, Skift’s branded content studio SkiftX spoke with Amperity’s Jeanne Jones, Vice President of Community and Customer Marketing, and Alaska Airlines’ Elliott Pesut, Director of Marketing, to learn how they’re thinking about loyalty and the importance of customer data as air travel comes back to life in a post-vaccine world.
SkiftX: Can you talk about how traveler loyalty has shifted since the onset of the pandemic?
Jeanne Jones: The biggest change has definitely been that people aren't earning or redeeming miles or rewards like we saw prior to the pandemic. This means we're going to see a big wave of redemption once travel picks up again. The relationship between loyalty and business travelers has also massively shifted. Going forward, travel brands will likely focus loyalty messaging and benefits to be more in line with the wants and needs of leisure travelers, who will be willing to spend more on travel to make up for the last year.
SkiftX: How did Alaska Airlines adjust its loyalty offerings and brand messaging over the last year?
Elliott Pesut: Our goal was to really meet travelers where they were. The top priority during this time was emphasizing our safety procedures in our messaging, whether the customer was traveling with us or not. Our Next-Level Care brand campaign summarized the actions we’ve taken to keep our guests safe, including air filtration, cleaning, service changes, booking flexibility, and partnering with Covid-19 testing providers.
Another priority was ensuring our travelers that the benefits and perks they’ve worked so hard to achieve were safe and secure, whether that meant offering an extension to redeem a travel credit from a canceled trip or extending elite status through the end of 2021. We also experimented with some new initiatives, such as offering the ability for guests to turn travel credits into miles with additional flexibility. This was actually really popular with travelers who wanted to wait until they had a little more certainty about when they’d be traveling next.
We also provided some different ways for guests to earn miles on the ground. One of our more out-there ideas was our Strava Challenge partnership. Guests who followed our CEO, Ben Minicucci — a cycling enthusiast — on the app, and logged at least 360 minutes of physical activity during a two week period in May, had a chance to win up to 100,000 miles. We were surprised by the success, but it showed that people were eager to engage with us.
SkiftX: Talk to us about the role of customer data in all of this. How do you envision customer data will be used going forward as travel bookings pick up?
Jones: Customer data is at the center of it all. Most of the campaigns that Elliott just referred to are driven from the airline’s partnership with Amperity Customer Data Platform. Looking at the overall customer value and the underlying data — who’s newly joined, who’s engaging, who’s not in the program but might potentially join, the impact of new programs and campaigns — is key. Centralized customer data, complete and accurate customer profiles, and predictive customer insights to help identify your most valuable customers are all so important, especially as we enter this recovery phase.
We’re also facing the death of the third-party cookie. Being able to collect, access, and operationalize first-party customer data, and really look at it holistically, is going to be crucial to any brand. I think this will also fuel an increase in partnerships that offer brands the opportunity to share customer data, especially for airlines and hotels.