Our chat with Mark Mullinix, MD, Loyalty Advantage and conference chair of the FFP Loyalty Conference, a part of 2nd Annual Mega Event Asia-Pacific (held in Singapore, 31st Aug 2015 – 2nd September 2015.)
From A Traveller’s Lens
Airline loyalty programs are evolving. There is plenty at stake, and carrier can’t afford to slip. For instance, revenue-based earning approach has a huge number of complexities in implementation for legacy carriers. Also, airlines still struggle with consistency in service delivery and with recovery from irregular operations, says Mullinix.
Mullinix believes airlines need to ensure the overall travel experience is sublime, and a traveller should feel “I have received something that I value in exchange for my loyalty”. Excerpts from an interview with Ai’s Ritesh Gupta:
Ai: If you were to assess loyalty as an air passenger, what makes you happy?
There are really two different ways to assess loyalty here—one is the loyalty to the travel experience provided by the airline, and the other is the loyalty to the rewards received. Airlines are trying to use their loyalty programs as differentiators, but if the basic service promise of the airline isn’t being met, the majority of travellers will have no true loyalty to the airline—only loyalty to the rewards.
For me, the most important factor in loyalty to an airline’s travel experience is that it delivers what it promises. I fly low-cost carriers and full service carriers, and in each case I come away happy, as long as I received what I paid for. It’s when the airlines don’t manage to deliver what they promise that a traveller’s loyalty to an airline gets questioned, and my decision to remain a customer of the airline may be more due to the loyalty rewards rather than due to my intrinsic happiness with the airline. In Net Promoter Score terms, I become a detractor while remaining active and flying regularly.
On the rewards front, what makes me happiest is the perception of value—feeling that I’ve received something that I value in exchange for my loyalty. This value driver will be different for each passenger, which is the challenge for loyalty program managers trying to build a one-size-fits-all program.
Airlines still struggle with consistency in service delivery and with recovery from irregular operations. It’s not easy, but these are definitely the areas that can make the most difference in a customer’s experience.
Ai: What would you count on as the biggest development as well as the challenge in loyalty today?
The biggest trend we’ve seen in the past few years, and certainly the most hotly debated, has been the shift towards explicitly revenue-based programs where the number of points earned is a direct function of the number of dollars spent.
After Delta announced their shift, United followed quickly, and the industry consensus seems to be that American will do the same as soon as they finish the final merger details.
While it’s made big news, using revenue as a basis for mileage earning is hardly new. Airlines around the world have been differentiating mileage earning by fare class (as a proxy for yield) for a long time, but few had removed the “miles flown” entirely from the earning equation as Delta and United have.
This revenue-based earning approach has a huge number of complexities in implementation for legacy carriers: foreign currency effects, interline/ alliance codeshare tickets, and the multipliers for elite tier status are just three that have already become clear. More importantly, the publicity around these program changes has sparked a debate among frequent flyers as to whether loyalty is even worthwhile any more.
I would challenge airlines to think carefully about what they are trying to achieve with their loyalty programs, and to redevelop not based on the latest me-too trend, but in a way that will drive towards those objectives. I think there is an opportunity for smart airlines to capitalize on the growing disillusionment from consumers with a “back to basics” program while still preserving the balance sheet.
Ai: Can you cite examples where you feel airlines have excelled in offering what you expect from loyalty?
This is a very personal question as each customer will expect something different for their loyalty. I think Cathay Pacific have done an excellent job of providing that “little extra” for their loyal customers, through on-board recognition, a yield management strategy that allows for relatively generous operational upgrades, and decent availability of awards in a traditional miles-based program.
In the major alliances, oneworld has excelled in creating loyalty to the alliance in general through unified policies. One of my favorites is that on a codeshare flight, the earning rules of the marketing carrier apply, rather than the operating carrier. This makes it much easier for the consumer to know what they will earn, as compared to Star Alliance where the fare class of the operating carrier dictates the mileage earned.
On the other end of the spectrum, Southwest have done an excellent job of communicating a simple value proposition and fulfilling that promise. Each booking shows the number of points that can be earned, or the number of points required to redeem, as an integral part of the booking process, ensuring that the loyalty program is top of mind even though the actual points value may not be transparent to the average consumer.
Ai: Where do you think airline loyalty programs generally are going wrong – from both technology and operations perspective?
I don’t see programs as going wrong from a technology or operations perspective. Generally, the loyalty program management technologies are among the most up-to-date systems the airline employs, given the long history of mainframe-based technology and legacy systems in other areas of operations!
Where the programs are suffering is in their overall strategy.
The reliance on external partners and the creation of a miles ecosystem where the majority of miles are no longer earned through flight behaviour have pushed the airlines into a difficult strategic position—consumers still want to redeem miles for flights, but there are no seats and far too many miles.
The revenue from partners has become so massive that the airline’s loyalty program becomes more a facilitator of partner transactions than a true driver of loyalty to the airline.
Ai: What should be the major priority of airlines today especially when airlines are not only expected to recognise a loyal flyer, but achieve top-notch personalization?
So much of loyalty is really about customer experience. I think this is a huge opportunity area for airlines.
Hotels have learned these lessons very well and now when you check in, many of them have a completely personalised experience available to you. I believe the opportunity is there for the airlines to do similar—moving beyond “window or aisle” to “he prefers window on long-haul but aisle on short-haul, and we know he usually takes a soda with no ice, so let’s confirm that when doing beverage service rather than asking him as if we’d never seen him before.”
This relies on both technology and staff, with staff being the more difficult part of the equation. And of course the most important question still remains — would this level of service really drive increased loyalty and profitability?
Ai: What do you make of mistakes that airlines can commit when it comes to redeeming miles for merchandise? For instance, critics often talk about relatively lower cents per mile for non-travel products offered?
What critics are missing in their analysis of low-value rewards is that there’s a market for those rewards. Consumers aren’t always motivated by the highest cash value equivalent for a reward—if they were, everybody would be saving for first class long-haul travel.
Convenience, the feeling of instant gratification, burning points prior to their expiration, or the ability to “monetise” points into a gift card are all valued by the consumer in their overall decision, and in many cases these very rational criteria lead to seemingly irrational decisions regarding redemption of points.
April 11, 2015
Point of View Editorial
Executive Chairman Co-Brand Conference
CEO and Managing Partner, The Mallett Group
Are retail co-brands relevant?
Over the past 10 years we have seen a shifting environment for cards that have been brought to market. The omnipresent travel cobrands in air and hospitality continue to create an aspirational goal for those frequent travelers and frequent buyers. These cards are the largest partner of any travel company; the purchase of their loyalty currency by issuers can run into the billions of dollars per year.
Additionally many bank issuer cards have an attached loyalty scheme that supports customers’ travel desires through earn and conversion to either their desired FFP or direct redemption for tickets, and of course merchandise. We have seen the big issuers expanding their reach into the consumer base with large bonus promotions to drive spend and share of wallet. Soon we will see the launch of a “coalition” program here in the US. Coalition programs have never succeeded here as they have in Canada, the UK, and other geographies. We will watch with interest.
Also, in the past few years we have seen a sizable decrease in pure affinity cards. These portfolios have grown smaller, and sponsoring institutions have struggled to retain their base. Not to be forgotten is the formidable size of the customer base that enjoys pure cash rebates of 1-2% for spend. The cash-back segment is huge and tailored to the needs of this population.
So where does this leave retail co-brands? In this highly competitive environment, affected by all of the above, retailers position themselves directly to their customer base to drive spend to their stores by offering promotions, discounts and other benefits that a truly loyal shopper appreciates. However, keeping these programs and the portfolios healthy, relevant and compelling is an increasing challenge. One needs to think outside the box to target, engage and reward so that retailers enjoy the same ROI as other types of cards in market.
At the stand-alone Co-brand Event hosted by AI Connect on May 27/28 in Chicago, retailers will learn about emerging engagement strategies from cutting edge companies, will be exposed to the competition and will hear directly from issuers, networks and industry consultants on new ways to harness “Interaction to Transaction”, the theme of the conference. Come join us!
Who will a traveller go to seek help - are you sure it’s going to be a human? Connected app experiences, wearables, facial recognition software...how all of this is going to lend a new dimension to a traveller’s entire trip? Ritesh Gupta, Airline Information Correspondent finds out
If ever direct communication were to stand the test of time, be it for travel planning, booking or the sheer joy of taking a journey, then that moment is about to happen in the near future.
The question is who will a traveller go to seek help?
As it turned out during our annual Mega Event 2014 held in New Orleans in late 2014, a survey indicated that around 1/5th of travellers in the U. S. expect to talk to a robot (that will be more helpful than a person) in 2020. As indicated by Switchfly, 1/3rd believe that no one will call hotels or airlines directly by then, and that all communications will be done electronically.
So are travel shoppers going to avoid human interactions altogether or is just that the connection between services, devices and location is going to mark a new chapter in the commerce and customer service arena? Let’s explore some of the new developments that may take us to the point where we don’t end up interacting with anyone for our travel-related requirements.
So what’s happening as of today that indicates travellers can do a number of things independently.
Let’s start with smartphones. Say you own one, and there are apps in it. As a traveller, you tend to go through different apps for probably one journey of yours. But this world of friction in the disconnected app world is slowly disappearing. And this is being made possible deep linking technology. It essentially means that one’s intent is going to be figured “intelligently”, and he or she is going to be driven to the desired service. Today technology has reached a point where a consumer is being enticed to reach a specific page inside the app, no matter whether the app is already installed or not (you may read about Branch Metrics). One of the emerging players in this arena, NYC-based start-up Button analyzes a consumer’s intent on activity, historical data, context, time, and location. So it could be that you are using an airline app, checking in for your next flight and you end up seamlessly booking a reservation for a restaurant for your next destination.
This also means that our preferences and behavior is up for grabs, and we are sharing relevant data. But let’s not just restrict it to mobile apps. For instance, beacons can pave way for personalized communications and calls to action. If one acts on such technology, there is a footprint to be followed. There already has been a lot of buzz around our place getting sensorized, with almost everything out there gaining an IP address. This would result in exchange of data and the Internet of Things (IoT) will become a reality.
I came across an interesting observation highlighted by consultant Jeff Rubingh, who underlines that there could be an “API of You, of all of your own data”.
There could be a possibility of you, as a consumer, making data available as an API. Who is going to facilitate this is yet to clear up, but Rubingh has a point when he says your data is reflection of your being, your identity. How much you share is going to be under your control, and of course, this is going to be driven by upcoming devices, and we all already aware of wearables.
Cognitive computing and the IoT
Overall, a lot is being expected from the blend of cognitive computing and the IoT phenomenon.
As a specialist in this arena, Saffron Technology says the future is about spotting connections among data across varied sources, doing away with modeling, while learning incrementally and working on results based on patterns identified in the data. It does get complicated for one who doesn’t know much about these concepts. But to put in Saffron’s words – the entity formulates a “real-time adaptive model of “your” world as we continuously learn about every “thing” in your data and its connections in context with every other thing”. Clearly the term “big data” wouldn’t sound as big as it did over the past few years!
For consumers, this will have direct impact on the level of personalization as well as fraud detection.
Moving on, one last topic that is surely going to garner attention this year is the world of payments. Whether Apple Pay gains traction or not would decide the fate of NFC payments. On the positive side, the industry is already expecting smartphones to play their part in boarding via contactless smart cards. All of this means that touchpoints where human beings generally used to serve travellers wouldn’t be needed if all of this goes mass.
The world is getting definitely getting smarter, and it all boils down to offering travellers new ways to do less of what they used to do earlier. And at the same time, the entire trip would be much smoother than ever before. Whether human interaction would really count or not, it hardly would make any difference as long as customer service is catapulted to a newer level.
***STOP PRESS*** ►Registration is open for Mega Event 2015 & 10th FFP Loyatly Conference in San Diego in November.
How are non-traditional partnerships growing the stickiness of a loyalty program? Ritesh Gupta, Airline Information Correspondent assesses the same
The way airlines manage a loyalty program isn’t just about rewarding one with apt loyalty currency or juggling between cash back and travel rewards. Rather one also needs to take into account what can result in affordability of loyalty partnerships.
Airlines have to assess how loyalty linked to aspirational rewards works, and how they need to look at multi-partner loyalty today.
As highlighted during our annual Mega Event 2014 held in New Orleans in late 2014, frequent flyer and financial services programs are beginning to direct their focus to new earn opportunities not common to their program types but table-stakes in coalition programs. It’s being described as a B2B strategy that focuses on the loyalty program aiding merchant partners to use the power of their program and currency to significantly shift shopping behaviour in consumers.
Reality of coalition
The term coalition, as Tim Moulton, VP, business solutions and business development, Points says, often described as a group of customers that share a bucket of customers to cross-pollinate each other’s customer bases “is not always attractive in emerging FFP and FS (financial services) loyalty programs”.
“These types of brands are generally not willing to share access to their customers,” points out Moulton.
“So, the attractive model is one where each party promotes within their base the program offer setting strict guidelines regarding the sharing of member information and reporting,” he says.
According to him, the value proposition presented to merchant retailers from FFP and in some cases FS is the flight reward option, which is usually a stronger value than third party options. FS, value proposition to the merchant is also travel rewards and experienced base rewards fuelled by the ability to double dip accelerating their ability to get to a reward quicker. FS partnerships also provide an easier relationship to the merchant; no additional step, earn construct understood by the collector and usually no IT or MIS requirements by the Merchant.
“When the FFP and FS work together the real power comes out in reporting that shows relevancy to the merchant and partnership return. In this scenario the FSs’ card products become more relevant and effective to the collector, the FFP enables the members to achieve rewards faster and diversify their accrual revenue and merchants have fewer steps to collect and marketing channels with brands that are respected. For FS and FFP programs that do not want merchants collecting membership information this solves for that,” explains Moulton.
Responding to members’ desire
Airlines need to assess what is fuelling merchant adoption.
The benefits to members include new ways to acquire the points and miles they need to reach their aspirational travel goals faster. The industry is witnessing a lot more exclusive member benefits that truly drive engagement with the loyalty program.
So how are FFPs and financial services programs are combining today to new earn opportunities?
“The main opportunity is the FS opening up more to the FFP. In the past co-brands were reluctant to share spending data from the cards to merchants or even the FFP. There are many examples in the market now (TD/ Aeroplan) where this sharing of spend data has begun, and communicated to the member,” says Moulton. “The data can be used to optimize FS and FFP but also used to show value to merchants. The data begins as a BD tool for the cobrand and FFP to understand the best merchants to pursue and extends into proofing value to the merchant when moving through the qualification and discovery phases of the BD process.” For the FFP and FS this data helps promote utility of the program to the members but for the merchant it helps demonstrate members in their trade area that are not shopping, and designing campaigns to encourage stronger baskets and more frequent trips. Essentially capturing more household spend for all stakeholders, adds Moulton.
Citing examples of exclusive member benefits that some airlines are offering today, Moulton shared:
So what can one expect in 2015 as FFPs and financial services programs continue to jointly evolve?
Moulton says one can expect accelerated earn partnerships with merchants. This is currently an under-developed opportunity and program are beginning to develop these teams and partner with third parties to drive the BD process. Also, there would be digital wallet soft launches where FS and FFP’s currencies can be managed and used for some transactions. There is a race in the merging payments sector and the digital wallet provides: the ability to transact with hard currency and the consolidation of content (i.e. loyalty) with the ability to transact with those programs. A consolidator like Points.com allows digital wallets to add that benefit efficiently.
Our chat with Duane Tough, President Payability & keynote speaker at the Co-Brand Partnerships Conference held in Chicago on 26 & 27 May 2015.
From A Traveller’s Lens
“Aggregation of points/rewards” is the most over-rated concept in the travel sector, believes Duane Tough, President – Payabillity
Nothing like experiencing a product yourself that you are responsible for and then improvising upon the same to enhance its utility.
As an inventor of patents pending in payment acceptance, loyalty, localization and currency management systems, Toronto, Canada-based Duane Tough, President – Payabillity believes there are lots of areas where the overall journey of a traveller can be improved. As for payments, Tough tries to use as many options as possible to come to grips with emerging trends.
Let’s hear out what Tough has to say about the world of payments, loyalty, and his journey as a traveller. Excerpts from interview with Airline Information:
AI: When you reflect upon your career in the world of payments, what would you term as the defining moment?
I can’t say ‘one’ moment was defining – I think that the whole payments lifecycle of ‘never being boring’ and always being able to learn more is the motivator for me. I try and use as many as payment methods as possible. It really depends on the jurisdiction – cash, open network cards, closed network cards… I was in Las Vegas recently and purposely spent the whole day paying for everything with casino chips!
In Canada they have several wireless and NFC networks that compete for a relatively small market- Interac (a national debit network) Visa, MC, and all pale to what Starbucks does on its network in Canada - adding more seems overkill to the consumer in markets like Canada.
AI: As a traveller, what excites you most about completing a transaction in air travel today?
Many air travel payment items excite me, the progress of onboard payments, the pre-pay and ‘layaway’ plans for ticket purchasing, corporate travel management, flight expense reporting along with personal and corporate reward reconciliations into reporting.
AI: What would you like to see improving as far as operations of the airlines in general is concerned?
Airlines are very good at communicating what ‘they do’ to the traveller, if they enhanced the offerings of communication to ‘time to pass through security’, ‘real time taxi waits’ and more along the lines of what the ‘person’ does in the whole lifecycle of their travel- not just what the person does with the airline – it would be better.
AI: Technology and devices have a lot to offer to travellers, and accordingly delight them. How easy or challenging is it for even a tech-savvy traveller to embrace new forms of payments?
I think the tech involved with airlines is greatly assisted by the “fintech” industry as a whole educating the consumers that in turn understand more of what the airlines offer in technology and payments.
AI: How should airlines gear up for payments strategy today in an omni-channel payment environment?
Anything you can buy online, over the phone or at the counter you should be able to do anywhere with any device with multiple payment methods, I should not be told at the boarding gate that they can’t take my cash to upgrade or that points (as a currency now) need to be done online – I have been rejected many times in different ways with almost every airline.
AI: Can you cite examples of some of your inspiration/ experiences as a traveller and how you incorporated the same in your work?
Staff - I have seen the staff of many airlines go above and beyond in making the experience much more enjoyable. As a mostly business traveller I dread a lot of flights- when I hear the humour or the attention of that one staff member before during or after a flight I forget about the dread and enjoy more of the experience.
AI: What according to you is the over-rated concept/ theme in the travel sector?
Aggregation of points/ rewards – no one understands code share points and redemption transfers and expiries- all those offers are just confusing to most people and end up being a ‘whatever’ moment that does not contribute to the decision of where, when and who to travel with.
AI: What according to you is the next big thing in payments as well as air travel?
These would be:
In American Airlines' latest financial update the carrier disclosed that 66% of its total frequent Flier miles were sold to partners, such as the bank issuing its co-branded credit card. That's a whopping 125 billion miles! This demonstrates the power of co-brand and the importance airlines' place on this revenue source. However, at least in North America (because the trend hasn’t totally caught on everywhere), the banks have responded to the lure of travel as an incentive; the banks have established their own travel reward cards.
So, which cards are most rewarding? Are consumers better off with an airline co-brand card or a bank travel reward offer? My recent research “Card Carrying Generosity” came up with some intriguing surprises. I’ll be sharing the results of this research as part of my talk at the FFP Spring Event in Washington DC in April. Quantifying value in the loyalty business is never an easy task, but the report indicates banks have gained an advantage. The lesson I will offer during my presentation is this - - airlines be aware, because your competition is wide awake.
I’m also delighted to be able to share that Airline Information has made the Kids First Fund their supported charity for 2013. The fund works to help abused children in resource-poor areas of the world. Kids First Fund is supported by generous donations from airlines, hotel and car rental companies which provide prizes for our charity auction. If you’d like to know more about the charity, or to make a donation for the charity auction, please click: www.KidsFirstAuction.com
In the meantime, if you want to know more about the "Card Carrying Generosity" report you can visit: www.ideaworkscompany.com. Click on the recent report link. I’ll also be at the FFP Spring and the Freddies Award Ceremony if you want to come and know more about this research or the charity.
Guest Editorial by:
Jay Sorensen, President, IdeaWorksCompany
Guest editorial from The Mallett Group
Is your loyalty program leaving revenue on the table? Over the past few years Dual (Jewel/UK lingo) card offerings have begun to be reluctantly embraced by the merchant networks to address acceptance issues. For those of us who have not encountered dual card offerings, they are co-branded credit card products that offer not one, but two network branded cards tied to a single consumer account. Meaning there may be a Diners Club card paired with a MasterCard that is placed into market within a merchant's co-brand card offering.
Because the dual network offering allows the issuer to garner all spend due to acceptance restrictions in certain markets. For example, American Express has more limited merchant acceptance in the UK market, so a companion Visa is offered to capture spend that otherwise would be relegated to other card products in wallet. Meaning it is better to have partial share than no share at all. Counter intuitive upon first blush, but potentially sound as one never wants to be late to the party.
We have seen these offerings in the UK – with the likes of Virgin Atlantic, as well as with airlines in Spain and India. And, watch this space as there are more to come!
The Dual Card offering can be a powerful measure to employ in a less than ideal market situation. However, one needs to navigate the obstacles in a sophisticated manner. It takes more than the average plug and play solution, but in the end it can provide a robust product to consumers and reward the brand with enhanced commercials.
Co-branded credit cards are rapidly evolving. Pressure from regulators on “interchange” fees is putting pressure on the credit card networks to reduce the fees they charge, which is beneficial for merchants, but not for those trying to offer large rewards for airline & travel co-branded cards. British Airways recently offered 100,000 Avios Points to consumers for opening its U.S. card, where interchange fees are higher, but the richest we have seen in the UK market place is 35,000 points, as interchange fees are generally lower in Europe.
There is also pressure on co-branded cards from cash-strapped consumers who are turning increasingly to pre-paid cards. Growth in pre-paids is also being driven by innovation, an example of which is the One Smart Card from Air New Zealand. The Kiwi airline put 1 million prepaid cards in to the hands of customers as a joint pre-paid/Frequent Flyer card that allows consumers to load money in various currencies onto their Frequent Flyer card, reducing or eliminating the foreign exchange fees charged by many cards to consumers when they make purchases abroad.
These developments and many others will be discussed at the Co-brand Partnerships EMEA Conference in London on 23/24th of October 2012.
The Co-Brand Partnerships EMEA Conference is the event to find out what is happening in the airline & travel co-branded credit card space in Europe, Middle East and Africa. As good information and up-to-date market insight is essential for innovation and decision-making, we are delighted that The Nilson Report is our media partner for this event. The Nilson Report is the essential place to go for a comprehensive view of everything in the co-brand and consumer payments market with statistics not available elsewhere.
Please visit the Nilson Report website to receive a sample of the service and see for yourself. I am sure you’ll agree it is an excellent resource.
We look forward to seeing you in London next week.
Michael Smith, Managing Partner, Airline Information