Frequent-flier programs have developed to where miles and member databases have turned airlines into powerful sources of marketing information and loyalty offers.
For American Airlines, which is reeling from a pilot sickout that canceled thousands of flights over the President's Day holiday weekend, its database of Advantage Miles members could serve as a retention tool to stem customer fallout.
“Any situation like this is unfortunate, and we certainly hope the overall loyalty we have built up with our members and the strength of the program will help us get back acceptance as quickly as possible,” said American Airlines spokesman Bill Dreslin.
American, Fort Worth, TX, which created the frequent-flier frenzy 17 years ago, set up a marketing division in 1996 for Advantage Miles. The division sells miles for 2 cents a piece to more than 2,000 businesses and nonprofit organizations and for the last five years has been leveraging its database of 32 million members to help partners reach their target audience.
List arrangements are part of the overall marketing relationship with partners, but American does not share its database with outside marketers.
The most common way to target Advantage members is through statement inserts in monthly mailings to American's 3.5 million Advantage Gold and Advantage Platinum members. Other members receive mailings whenever there is mile-earning activity. Personalized text and banner messages and offers also can be printed on the activity statement or included on an offer page that has space for six advertisers per mailing.
Advertising partners can participate in mailings to new members and members of the AActive American Traveler Club and purchase space on the American Airlines Web site (www.aa.com).
The Advantage database can be segmented by membership level, membership activity, geographic location, travel or frequency patterns or by a marketer's own selection criteria. International members can be segmented by country with inserts printed in their native language.
Continental, Houston, grants partners access to its database of more than 16 million OnePass members for marketing purposes and will assist in list selection.
The Tom Thumb/Randall's supermarket chain in Texas offers miles from both airlines to users of its frequent shopper card who sign up as Advantage members. Its “Miles in the Aisles” program awards Advantage miles in its 54 Dallas stores, OnePass miles in its 50 Houston stores and both in its 12 Austin locations.
Customers earn one mile for every dollar of groceries purchased. The stores also conduct double and triple-mile promotions and free ticket sweepstakes to drive traffic to new store openings and to encourage enrollment in the shopper card program. Tom Thumb spokesperson Anissa Yates said airline relationships are effective loyalty and retention tools because “customers really like the miles.” The partnership also works well because the airlines track mileage activity and handles all member communications.
American works with companies to set up Advantage Miles programs. Although overly aggressive plans will lose money, Advantage Miles sales manager Scott Yager said most companies are not aggressive enough in leveraging miles. “You really get to brand when you do these programs, people know what [miles] mean and it's a way to talk to them,'' he said.
Although Advantage Miles signs up 6,500 unsolicited new members per day, American continues to build its database through prospecting. It rents business lists and also drops mailings to its database for business offers.