Airline Frequent Flyer Programs Land Short of Elite Members' Wants

MINNEAPOLIS, MN | October 21, 2009

In its latest fact-packed white paper, the loyalty program experts at Carlson Marketing and Peppers & Rogers Group dissect frequent flyer programs to determine what elements are most important to secure the loyalty of elite members. The white paper, "Better Business Results from Elite Frequent Flyers," is available at

With responses from nearly 5,000 frequent flyer program members from four different airlines, the chasm that separates what elite frequent flyers want from what they get was identified. The program attributes that are most important to flyers are the ease of redeeming for travel awards and the ability to earn free access to the airline's lounge. For this elite segment of frequent flyers among the least important are the ability to redeem miles for non-airline awards and to earn miles by using non-airline partners. That is in stark contrast to non-elite members who traditionally respond well to non-airline rewards and partners.

According to Luc Bondar, global vice president, Loyalty Marketing, Carlson Marketing, "Airlines must meet the needs of their best customers, the elite frequent flyers, through their loyalty programs. Bridging the gap between what they want and what they get can yield substantial benefits."

The research indicated that increased loyalty program quality produced direct financial results:

  • A fourfold increase in the likelihood to fly the airline more, and

  • An improvement in share-of-wallet among all airlines flown.

In addition, other benefits accrue with an improved loyalty program:

  • A reduction in the number of other airlines flown,

  • A willingness to forego benefits that other airlines might offer,

  • A twofold increase in the likelihood to recommend the airline, and

  • An anticipated 16 percent increase in the usage of the airline's partners.

"This collection of business benefits represents a solid business case for investments to improve the experience of elite members in an airline's loyalty program," explained Bondar. "Any one outcome is impressive, but in total they make a compelling statement about the role of a frequent flyer program in driving better business results."

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About Carlson Marketing Worldwide

Carlson Marketing is the world's leading relationship building company. As the largest independent agency in the U.S. and the 13th largest marketing company in the world, Carlson Marketing designs and delivers loyalty and engagement programs for some of the world's best known brands. Carlson Marketing's two global service offerings - Brand Loyalty and Engagement & Events- are supported by six core capabilities: Strategy & Brand Planning; Creative and Communications; Decision Sciences; Award Services; Technology Services and Customer Service. Carlson Marketing employs 2,500 marketing professionals in 45 cities across 16 countries.

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