Can Airline Marketers Increase Loyalty and Retention?



What started out in the ‘80s as an attempt at product differentiation has now turned into a multi-billion dollar industry. Airlines rewards programs were invented to bolster brand loyalty and keep customers coming back. It worked for a long time, but is it still effective today?

As it turns out, today’s customers are actually way more satisfied with grocery store loyalty programs (50%) than with airline loyalty programs (36%). And for U.S. airlines, less than half of onboard customers on any given flight are even members of that airline’s frequent-flier program.

What happened?

The tale of the infrequent flier

Where loyalty rewards used to be within reach for those who traveled only occasionally, most of today’s infrequent travelers are no longer able to obtain enough of those coveted airmiles to do much of anything. With little to gain for remaining loyal to a specific airline, these customers are up for grabs. This isn’t insignificant. Because while these travelers may not account for the bulk of airline revenue, they do make up most of the volume of travelers.

These infrequent travelers are the ones who are most likely to comparison shop (because they are not locked into loyalty with any airline) and are therefore be more open to being won over with just the right deal, at the right time — and to remember you for next time. They’re also the ones who will share their travel stories on social media and let their networks know whether they had a nice flight or not.

Capturing these customers as loyalty program numbers are dropping is the key to increasing revenue and influencing social sentiment.


With everyone wanting a slightly different experience, it’s your challenge to know who wants the cheapest ticket possible vs. who wants the most comfortable or convenient flight — and to be able to respond to those individual desires with the best offer in real time. 

Build a real relationship with your customers

At its core, increasing brand loyalty and retention isn’t about reaching the right audience, but the right individual. Once you reach that individual, you need to be able to offer exactly the products and services they are looking for, exactly when they need them.

Airlines have been attempting to provide this kind of seamless customer journey for a number of years now. And in many ways, it’s working. Marketing based on customer segments and audiences has made it possible to retarget ads and roll out personalized email campaigns targeted at specific personas.

But in many ways, it’s not working. 

How many of your customers are followed around by retargeted ads after they’ve already bought their ticket? How many of your customers are getting irrelevant email offers (or too many email offers) and unsubscribing from your mailing lists? How many of your customers are being pestered to upgrade when all they really want is an inexpensive flight home to visit their family?

Take them on the journey they really want

Airlines have to become more efficient in their marketing and smarter in their decision making if they want to keep customers for the long haul. Loyal customers are your best currency, and customer loyalty starts with relevant, ongoing conversations.

The conversation should start before they’re even your customers. When you give prospects the attention they crave during the orientation and decision phase, you’re doing more than increasing the likelihood that they’ll choose you this time. You’re building a lasting relationship that will encourage them to choose you next time, too, and the time after that. 

How intelligent technology can help

The Relay42 platform can help you create seamless customer journeys and have genuine conversations in a new way. This is because it understands individual customers and knows where they are in their customer journey. Then it uses AI to offer each individual the perfect next best step based on everything it knows about the customer, including their real-time activity.

It’s not channel-specific, either. Even if a customer or prospect leaves your site on their desktop and comes back to it on their mobile device (and even if they do that fifteen times), the platform will store that behavior and adapt accordingly. Essentially, Relay42 moves marketing from optimizing individual touchpoints to optimizing the entire journey.

A new way to manage your customer data

As an airline, you are in the best position to benefit from Intelligent Journey Orchestration technology for one very important reason: you already have a huge wealth of customer data.

Relay42 works by combining all of your customer data from multiple sources like your website, partner websites, and social media channels. It then builds rich customer profiles that will help you better understand your customers and prospects, and their individual journeys.

And it does more than help you understand your customers. Relay42 also recognizes your customers at every single phase of their journey, which gives you the opportunity to make an impact at any given moment. Even if your prospect doesn’t yet have a profile with your business, their data can is still captured and stored using Relay42 technology. As soon as they land on your website (or a partner website) a profile is created and their behavior is stored. If they identify themselves at a later point, all of their data will be automatically merged with their new customer profile.

This provides you with the full picture of each and every customer from before the time they were even your customer. It also means you can offer relevant, engaging and highly personalized journeys to prospects and customers based on their real-time choices.

Orchestrate relevant end-to-end journeys

Of course, having highly detailed and always up-to-date customer profiles is only the first step. Relay42 also helps you plan and manage end-to-end journeys across all channels and ensure that the timing, channel and content of your message is always highly relevant — using AI to enable you to do this at scale for every single customer. 

This is what we mean when we talk about Intelligent Journey Orchestration:


Learn more about Intelligent Journey Orchestration in our infographic: Infographic: Intelligent Journey Orchestration in a Nutshell

Customer-centric solutions to the top 5 airline marketing challenges, from acquisition to loyalty.

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