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Delta Revamps Children's Flier Program

In a bold move to update its 10-year-old junior-flier program, Delta Air Lines has cut its membership list, reduced fees, added new partners and expanded direct marketing efforts for its Fantastic Flyer program.

Slashing the no-fee membership list from around 500,000 to about 8,000, Delta Air Lines, Atlanta, initiated the changes in December as a way to target members more effectively.

“When you have a membership base in the scheme of 500,000 members, you find you are speaking to a lot of people, but they are not necessarily flying with you,” said Karen Ahls Champagne, manager of the marketing program. “We felt the need to take it to a loyalty program. Now we have 8,000 members who we are speaking to and who are interested in the product. These are the children of the parents who are the most elite members of the Sky Miles program.”

The Fantastic Flyer program, which piggybacks on the airline's Sky Miles program, had been a free-membership rewards program since its inception, but Delta tested a membership fee last summer that initially charged $35 for participants ages 2 to 12. The new fare structure is $19.99 per child and $9.99 for each additional child.

“The fee-based approach was done more or less as a test,” Ahls Champagne said. “By attaching the fee, you are culling out those who are not attached to your brand.”

The carrier also repositioned the program's value offerings to focus on ticket discounts. When the fee-based approach was introduced in June it offered “more than $1,000 in travel values” from Delta and participating partners.

“It was so big people didn't find it believable, so we decided to break it down and just took the Delta values proposition,” Ahls Champagne said.

The revisions were included in a December mailing that has garnered a 16 percent response rate 90 days into the 120-day offer. The offer includes travel discount certificates that provide from $50 to $600 in family savings depending on the class of tickets purchased. Ahls Champagne said she expects the response rate to climb by the redemption date.

Delta tracks responses through its own pieces, which are coded separately from other pieces. Partners track their own redemption rates. Most of the Delta pieces feature mascot Dusty the Delta Air Lion.

Partner discounts include travel incentives with Busch Entertainment Corp. at such properties as Sea World, Busch Gardens and Adventure Island; Radisson Hotel and Hilton Hotel travel packages and car rentals through Alamo, Avis and National.

Membership also provides a five-minute prepaid calling card from MCI, free software from B&N companies, a 50 percent discount from Cloud 9 Interactive and a bounce-back coupon with Chuck E. Cheese's Pizza.

Delta's own program offerings include in-flight discounts, a subscription to Fantastic Flyer magazine, a 3-D luggage tag, stickers, an identification card and “secret” pass codes for members-only areas of the airline's web site at www.delta-air.com/fantastic.

The program provides the airline the opportunity to issue seasonal offers in the marketplace “as needed,” Ahls Champagne said. For instance, the carrier recently issued a two-zone fare discount in a closed offer to primary members of the program that enables someone to travel round-trip between Los Angeles and New York for $289.

New memberships are handled through a call service center 800 number, through the carrier's web site and through an automated in-bound program that features recorded program information.

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