Airport loyalty programs compared

In one of our last blogs, we talked about some of the key features of airport loyalty programs. Today, we are going to take a closer look at a few successful and unsuccessful airport loyalty programs, and analyze the good, the bad and the ugly. In the end, only one airport loyalty program can win – which one will it be?

In today’s blog, we will take a look at theree types of airport loyalty programs across three different airports – London Heathrow International oAirport (LHR), Gainesville Regional Airport (GNV) and Dallas Fort Worth (DFW).

Each of these airport loyalty programs are slightly different –

  • Offline airport loyalty program (GNV)
  • Affiliate airport loyalty program through ThanksAgain (DFW)
  • Online airport loyalty program through a mobile payment provider like LevelUp
  • A hybrid of all these approaches – Online, DIY airport loyalty program (LHR)
DIY Airport Loyalty Program

DIY Airport Loyalty Program

The first type of airport loyalty program we are going to analyze is a completely offline “Ultimate Road Warrior” program from the Gainesville Regional Airport (GNV), in Gainesville, Florida. You don’t exactly register for this program – you simply log your flights at the airport in a number of ways:

  1. Airline ticketing – there is a tally sheet at the Delta kiosk.
  2. Log in on the web book located on a pillar just inside our secure area.
  3. The box placed next to the web book.
  4. E-mail an official electronic itinerary to info@flygainesville.com.

You only accumulate points only if you report your flight. This airport loyalty program is limited scope – first of all, it only tracks flights, not money spent. Secondly, you have to remember to register your flights – it’s pretty low tech and there’s not automatic tracking. Finally, there’s limited offline interaction that the airport can do to further the conversation, but admittedly there are some giveaways, AND there’s a private lounge available only for club members. We give this program a B – the perks are actually pretty good if you’re a Gainesville local.

ThanksAgain Airport Loyalty Program

ThanksAgain Airport Loyalty Program

Next, let’s take a look at the ThanksAgain program, which is implemented at many airports in the US as an easy “white label” loyalty program. For example, it’s offered today at Dallaw Fort Worth Airport (DFW) and Atlanta Hartsfield International Airport (ATL). The negative about the ThanksAgain program is that the airport brand is completely eliminated – since the brand is run through third party ThanksAgain. There is also no room for customization – it’s really a “one size fits all” solution with very little room to change the operating parameters. Travelers accumulate points when they’re at participating vendors in the airports based on the dollar amount spend. The purchases at the Point of Sale are simply tied back to the traveler’s credit card, which has to be registered in to the program in advance. Therefore, there are already many barriers to entry for the potential airport loyalty member – privacy concerns, a priori opt-time, and remembering to bring along the credit card that was registered. ThanksAgain, while easy for the airport to set up (it’s literally out of the box), offers very little engagement, brand control, or flexibility. We therefore give this program a D.

High Tech Airport Loyalty Program

High Tech Airport Loyalty Program

Finally, let’s take a look at the airport loyalty program through the lens of third party Point of Sale/loyalty provider like LevelUp. I’m sure you’re used to using LevelUp in the city – but, it certinaly can be extended in to the airport vertical too. That fact that it is a mobile payment Point of Sale solution makes it all the more attractive. Vendors and airports can easily load their content into the LevelUp app, and not have to create individual airport or vendor apps to manage the loyalty tracking. However, it comes with a transaction processing fee for the airport vendors, and airport guests MUST have the app to be able to accumulate rewards – in other words, there’s no offline access component. The set up costs are low, but again, the airport can’t really control its brand, and flexibility is minimal. For that reason, we give this program a B-.

Here’s a comparison of the strengths and weaknesses of each of these airport loyalty programs.

But, why can’t an airport loyalty program take the best of each of these, and blend them in to a solution that is DIY, high-tech, and low-tech at the same time? In fact, this is what we’d consider to be the optimal solution.

A great example of this is London Heathrow’s Rewards program.

London Heathrow’s Heathrow Rewards program is one of the best, all-encompassing airport loyalty programs we’ve seen. It makes you feel like you’re part of exclusive club that gives you access to member’s only deals, offers, and events. Registration is all digital so you can register through the web, and you don’t have to physically visit the airport to join in the first place. But, then you’re issued a Heathrow Rewards grocery-store styled card that you have to carry around with you and flash when you’re at the airport making purchases. What if you forget your card? This is the biggest limitation to the Heathrow program – it could be higher tech, and have a “cardless” option tied to a mobile app.

The program does a good job continuing the conversation with its guests outside of the airport – you will receive several emails a month highlighting special deals and events, and also rolling up your airport loyalty program points and rewards status. The emails are great because they remind me about the Heathrow Rewards brand even when I’m in between trips, keeping its airport loyalty program top of mind. The emails also incentive me to remember to take advantage of the program when I’m physically at Heathrow. The only negative is that rewards are ONLY tied to purchases (one dimensional), and not to other aspects like number of visits, or engagement. We give this program a B+.

Does your airport have an awesome airport loyalty program that we missed? Let us know – we’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment here below the blog.

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Chandra is passionate about travel and technology....

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