Airline loyalty schemes shouldn't just be about miles
A view from James Calvert

Airline loyalty schemes shouldn't just be about miles

Airlines are under more pressure than ever to promote responsible flying and forward-thinking loyalty schemes can play a role in that.

The UK’s Committee on Climate Change recently called for airline loyalty schemes to be axed. However unfeasible a ban on air miles might seem, it’s clear that the committee believes these schemes work. They get people to fly more and, it has been suggested, can cause unnecessary "mileage" or "status" flights as frequent flyers fly just to collect miles and hold on to their reward tier status. 

Putting aside the reality that a ban on air miles would need agreement from all airlines and governments, could airlines find other ways to reward loyalty and address their frequent flyers’ contribution to carbon emissions?

At a time when the "flygskam" flight-shame movement is gaining ground and people understand that their individual actions can collectively make a meaningful impact, there is a growth opportunity for any airline that can help us fly more responsibly.

At the core of most loyalty schemes is a transactional mechanic – the stamps, points or miles given in return for your custom. In some cases, they are also given for other acceptable behaviours, such as using specific credit cards. This system incentivises the primary behaviour the brand desires: more flying. 

As the option to offset your flight’s carbon emissions has become table stakes, is there an opportunity here to switch to an alternative? Perhaps the cash equivalent of miles could be put towards a better in-flight option or simply additional carbon offsetting. Instead of tiering rewards on miles flown, could you tier by the percentage of total miles flown that has been offset?

Some of the most recognised loyalty schemes offer members additional value outside of their core mechanic. From extra perks and partnership offers to exclusives and priority access, each of these creates a better experience for the customer in return for giving the brand your favour. 

Re-rating and adding new choices aligned to responsible flight, running across an entire flight experience for your loyalty scheme members, could help people fly more with you, even if they fly less overall.

From simple value-added perks such as Wi-Fi and complimentary in-flight movies tailored to you, through to special vegan menus and rewarding those who can flex their flight time at short notice to maximise flight occupancy, there’s a world of possible value-adds for airlines to explore for their loyalty schemes. 

Everything you do as a brand impacts your potential future customers, how they see you and their intent to buy from you. The airlines willing to proudly show us their intent to help us all fly more responsibility, which make it easy to involve and inspire us to be better, stand to do well.

This could be as simple as a meaningful gesture, such as being the first to offer a vegan-only menu for the entire flight, or like-for-like train options when booking, or actively campaigning and providing video conference tools that reduce the need to meet in person, in turn reducing flights taken. 

From all the things you do to the things you say and stand for, everything matters when it comes to the brands we favour. By standing for something that counts and expanding the airline loyalty universe to find other ways to reward loyalty and addressing frequent flyers’ disproportionate contribution to carbon emissions, airlines could go a long way to make a difference with the people who matter most – their customers.

James Calvert is chief data officer at Lida

Picture: Getty Images