It’s Time for Travel Marketers to Rethink Loyalty – Think with Google

Once upon a time, a traveler signed up for your travel loyalty program. They started giving you more and more of their annual category spend. They earned points; they understood your brand; and they lived happily ever after as a loyal travel rewards member.

This travel fairy tale is now about as common as dial-up, Walkmans, and VCRs.

Today, people have more booking options than ever at their fingertips. And marketers must evolve their strategies to meet customers where they are. That’s why it’s time for travel brands to rethink loyalty. Loyalty has become synonymous with points, freebies, and membership discounts. Those benefits drive massive loyalty sign-ups, but the problem is, those same people may also be signing up with every one of your competitors.

Here’s an idea: separate your travel loyalty program from your understanding of retention and customer lifetime value. We partnered with research consultancy Greenberg to understand just how loyal today’s frequent travelers are. Spoiler alert: not very.

Meet the high-value traveler. These travelers have an annual average of seven airline and nine hotel bookings. They have high expectations for travel — only 21% will sacrifice comfort for a lower price. The vast majority — 87% — have status with at least one airline or hotel brand. As frequent travelers, they understand the benefits of rewards programs and have every reason to be loyal. But those programs only go so far.  

Loyalty programs are not even one of the top three considerations when choosing which brand to book travel with. Customer service is the clear priority (60%), followed by an easy-to-use website (55%) and online reviews (50%). Loyalty programs come in fourth, motivating less than half of the high-value travelers (46%).

The service you provide, across all touchpoints, is more memorable than the points you can offer.

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