- September 26, 2012
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By: Mark Dority, Director of Marketing
In January 2010, a massive earthquake struck Haiti, killing over 300,000 people and leaving at least a million others homeless. About a year later, an even stronger quake hit Japan, sending a tsunami onto the streets, killing over 15,000 people and causing the meltdown of three nuclear reactors.
Many people chose to support relief efforts, but some did so in a different way: by donating unused miles from their frequent-flyer loyalty programs.
Two days after the Haitian temblor, members of United Airlines’ Mileage Plus program had already donated 730,000 miles to relief efforts. And after the Japanese disaster, members of Canada’s Aeroplan and of Alaska Airlines’ Mileage Plan were able to donate miles to that cause as well.
Airline Loyalty: A Crowded Playing Field
As of this writing, there are 130 (or so) airline loyalty programs, with over 150 million members participating in these all over the globe. Each of these programs has a network of hotels, retailers, car rental companies and other travel-related partners. Each is experimenting with its loyalty strategies, rethinking its technology platforms and reconsidering its rewards-redemption processes and currencies. And each airline carrying these programs is also struggling to differentiate its loyalty offerings from the rest, in order to grow their customer base and recognition.
Layer on top of these considerations the fuel prices that just keep rising (jet fuel has reached an 8.5% increase from this time last year, on top of a 45% increase between 2010 and 2011). Passenger expectations are also changing and rising (airlines need to connect with tech-savvy customers as mobile device adoption spikes), putting pressure on the industry to develop loyalty strategies that improve customer service, increase revenues and add value for passengers and program members.
Cause-Related Loyalty Marketing: A New Option for Airlines
These types of mile donation programs are not brand new—but they do make a lot of sense in today’s socially conscious environment. They give travelers the positive feelings associated with helping others, while boosting an airline’s reputation in those travelers’ eyes, deepening loyalty while strengthening those critical customer relationships.
Most of these programs, however, don’t give frequent flyers much choice in terms of the cause that receives their donation. Sure, some provide a small list of options, but those are mostly limited to the big national and international groups—not the ones that fly under the radar and need those miles and points even more!
So what if an airline could give its philanthropically inclined passengers more than 2.5 million causes to choose from, in 50+ countries? That would be pretty incredible, wouldn’t it?
Choice in Charitable Giving: The Best Option
Given the diversity of human experience, a wider choice of causes could get a lot more frequent flyers interested in participating in an airline’s loyalty program, transforming miles or points into cash for donation. This not only lifts the liability and program-management costs from an airline, but it could be part of a longer-term solution that airlines need to get to know their passengers better—through their cause-related affinities, engaging them at a level which drives return on investment and keeps that fertile business relationship thriving into the future.
But that’s not all. What if airlines gave loyal passengers the chance to exercise this option onboard and in-flight in the future? Now wouldn’t that be something?
Image credit: Swami Stream