Coronavirus and travel loyalty - benefits and status flexibility not top of mind

4th April, 2020

Travel companies, including airlines, have made announcements in order to protect their bond with their loyal set of customers. Halting loyalty currency expirations, offering extension for statuses, lowering elite threshold requirements etc. are some of the initiatives that have been taken.

When airlines dwell on, for example, status extension, how are they evaluating their database for the same? Plus, more than looking at miles expiration or statuses, airlines shouldn’t forget the way they deal with travelers at the time of crisis, especially dealing with existing bookings, is going to be a driver of the future association.

Some other areas that need introspection:

  • What’s changing and what to prepare for: Evaluate attitudes, behavior and spending changes related to COVID-19. In its latest study featuring the U. S., market (surveyed consumers twice in one week), Bond Brand Loyalty, highlighted that communication is key. In fact, benefits and status flexibility not top of mind for members.
  • Significance of assumptions: A main issue that has emerged with data analytics and loyalty is – there is no practical or observed data to evaluate how things are going to shape up. An analysis on stressed on the significance of coming up with “smartest assumptions” and classifying members “based on their expected future behavior under normal circumstances, and then apply COVID-19 adjustment assumptions to each”. For example, considering various scenarios such as no pause in expirations and halting expirations for six months, it goes deep into various segments – low, moderate and high (classified on the basis of future engagement).

Also, airlines must dwell on identifying those are likely to travel whenever the rebound happens,  and work out and push special deals accordingly.

  • At a time when planes are grounded, how can airlines celebrate the joy of flying and inspire travelers? Isn’t this a way to be with your future passengers/ travelers as and when they are ready to travelling again?


Ritesh Gupta

Ai Correspondent


Ai Editorial: Time for travel CEOs to lead with empathy

23rd March, 2020

The entire travel sector has been shaken by the acceleration of the Coronavirus outbreak. As the leaders of this wonderful industry deal with financial implications and attempt to stay afloat, they must exemplify empathy and just not look at layoffs, writes Ai’s Ritesh Gupta


The travel industry is evaluating financial actions including cost containment, adjusting guidance, and gearing up for scenario planning and financial modeling for potential consequences owing to the COVID-19 outbreak.

From an airline’s perspective, the immediate calculation is about staying afloat and meeting their debt obligation. Focus is on curtailing operating expenses and capacity cuts to compensate for plunging demand. Evaluating where Southwest Airlines stands, an airline with robust balance sheet, it had a cash stockpile of $6.2 billion post recent additional financing. Analysis by The Motley Fool indicated that the airline is projected to face a quarterly operating loss of less than $3 billion next quarter.  

And technology companies belonging to this sector are in the process of removing cash costs from the business.  Sabre has started working on several immediate actions with regard to its workforce and other costs, totaling over $200 million in cash costs.

“We believe Sabre is well positioned to navigate this challenging environment,” Sean Menke, President and CEO, Sabre. He attributed the same to significant aspects of the business’ cost structure being variable. Other than workforce-related cut, the group is also looking at $250 million semi-variable technology hosting costs.

Airlines are also on lookout for support from the government. For instance, Virgin Atlantic recently appealed to the UK government for clear, decisive and unwavering support for the UK aviation sector, comprising emergency credit facilities to a value of £5-7.5bn, to bolster confidence in the industry, and to prevent credit card processors from withholding customer payments, and slot alleviation for the full summer 2020 season.

Don’t rush, evaluate all the options

The longer-lasting effects of the outbreak on consumer habits are difficult to predict. As Menke admits, the global travel industry is facing challenges beyond what has been experienced before.

"The speed of the demand fall-off is unlike anything we've seen," Delta chief executive Ed Bastian said late last week reportedly in a note to staff.

So what does it mean for travel industry’s workforce? Does it make layoffs inevitable?

In this context, The Harvard Business Review suggests rather than over-reacting and or being too slow, leaders must demonstrate the ability to “keep your cool in a critical situation. Few recommendations:

  • Don’t treat all negative indicators for your business the same
  • Everything isn’t about “self”. Rather the workforce might be willing to sacrifice to save others’ job.  How to make the most of this?
  • Review options - temporary reduction in base compensation, voluntary unpaid time off etc.

The article ends up with a positive message: “Going through a downturn and making tough decisions to keep your company afloat is hard. However, if you lead with compassion you will touch the lives of your employees in an extraordinary way and come out of this potential slowdown stronger than ever before, enhancing the shared values of your staff”.



Ai Editorial: 4 tips for distraught travelers affected by Coronavirus

17th March, 2020

How to get my money back? Leisure travelers, who don’t intend to go ahead with their scheduled trips owing to the spread of the coronavirus, are going through a harrowing phase as they try to get their money back. Travel restrictions, flight cancellations, change in policies…all of it is only adding to the misery.

Being on a call for hours only to get disappointed or even worse repeating the same without any positive result - is it worth the time?  Cancellations and updates have understandably left travelers baffled. Even though travel companies are increasingly being more flexible over cancellations and booking changes in response to the growing coronavirus pandemic, the situation is extremely painful.  

How to react?

It is being pointed out that in certain cases, it would be better to playing the waiting game. For instance, in case travel is more than 3-4 months away, then better to hold on rather than accepting a voucher or travel credit from the travel supplier at this stage. Also, even if a flight isn’t getting cancelled, then also better to see how the policy change is evolving.

Continue to explore options. Depending upon the market one hails from, dig into following areas:

  • Interested in tracking how travel companies are responding, and what are your airline cancellation and rebooking rights? A prudent option is following updates online on consumer websites or from money experts. For instance, MoneySavingExpert in the U. K. has been offering consolidated updates featuring policies and information related to British Airways, easyJet, Ryanair, Jet2, Norwegian, Virgin Atlantic, Accor, Best Western, First Choice, Jet2 Holidays, Marriott, Tui, Avis, Budget etc. These online guides are offering answers to critical questions – how should stranded passengers go about their immediate plan? What does a travel insurance include (medical assistance and expenses, claims for cancellation and trip interruption, personal money personal liability etc)?

Trade organizations such as Airlines for America (A4A), the industry trade organization for the leading U.S. airlines, are also sharing how its carrier members are taking action to help contain and stop the spread of COVID-19.

  • When to count on the credit card chargeback? Gary Leff from, referring to the example of United, wrote: “…for its part, (United) says that if you have an international itinerary with a significant schedule change and want your money back they will make you wait a year. United is not honoring the policy that was published on its website at the time tickets were purchased. That’s a case where I believe you should consider filing a dispute with your credit card company”. (A chargeback is a refund a merchant is forced to make when a customer disputes a purchase. One needs to be aware of the fact that credit card companies each have their own rules for responding to chargebacks).   
  • Airlines themselves are coming up with Coronavirus – COVID 19 updates. It is important to follow them regularly as their policies are also getting updated and fresh details are being provided. Also, certain airlines like easyJet are responding to travel restrictions a country is imposing by sharing its impact on their flight schedule and guidance including detail on what to do (via country-specific links).
  • Keep a vigil on the latest policies of various governments and entry requirements for a specific destination prior to travel.

Extremely precarious situation

 Meanwhile, A4A, has stressed that carriers have seen a dramatic decline in demand, which is getting worse by the day. It stated: “U.S. carriers are in need of immediate assistance as the current economic environment is simply not sustainable. This is compounded by the fact that the crisis does not appear to have an end in sight. In order to combat this unprecedented economic downfall, A4A is recommending the following combination of programs to provide immediate and medium to long-term assistance to the U.S. airline industry and protect their employees: 1) grants; 2) loans; and 3) tax relief.”   


By Ritesh Gupta

Ai Correspondent


Ai Video: Evaluating emotional engagement in loyalty

30th January, 2020

A range of KPIs are being explored when it comes to emotional engagement with a loyalty program.

Some areas that are being explored are:

  • How are favourite brands described by loyal customers?
  • What sort of qualities of positive human relationships brands need to emulate?
  • How can new data models incorporate information about these valid questions?

Ai's Ritesh Gupta recently spoke to Piotr Kozlowski, Vice President Consulting, Services Sector, Airline/Travel Loyalty at Comarch about the same.


Ai Video: Banking on exclusivity and experiential benefits for loyalty

14th January, 2020

Exclusive rewards, personalized access, a distinguished experience... such initiatives, as indicated by studies, are driving customer loyalty.

It is vital for airlines to focus on the human and digital moments that matter most along the customer journey, rather than just the transactional aspect in order to sustain loyalty.

Scott Robinson, VP of Loyalty Design and Strategy, Bond Brand Loyalty spoke about the same.

By  Ritesh Gupta


Ai’s new 2020 conference dates:

Ai Video: Crafting a new financial model for FFPs - what to expect?

23rd December, 2019

Airlines have embraced a number of models over the years to run their respective FFPs - right from being in control internally to forming a subsidiary to opting for a spin-off.  

A number of internal and external factors are assessed before finalizing the model and the structure.

It is time for airlines to look beyond a binary discussion around a model for their respective FFPs - one that is generally centred around whether to go for a carve-out option or not.

Ai’s new 2020 conference dates:



Ai Editorial: Superapp model and daily relevance, what’s there to gain for airlines?

17th December, 2019

Ai Editorial: Superapps are now extremely popular in various markets of Asia. Be it for refining their own apps in order to thrive in the data economy or being part of a 3rd party superapp,  airlines need to dig deeper to capitalize on the flourishing trend, writes Ai’s Ritesh Gupta


The frequency with which Meituan, a Chinese superapp, or Southeast Asia's highly-used daily services app, Grab,  are used for transactions makes them stand out.  

In case of Meituan, the total number of annual transacting users on its platform grew to over 435 million by September this year. Companies like Meituan are already eliciting over 25 transactions per user annually on an average basis. Grab has had over 150 million downloads. These apps have already garnered the attention of established travel e-commerce players, including Booking and even airlines such as Lufthansa Group. Such companies have been exploring the superapp model.  By being more utilitarian, the likes of Meituan, Paytm, WeChat , Grab, Gojek and others are now described as everyday superapps, with most of them operating at the intersection of hyper-local delivery, commerce, payments etc.  And being in the business for five years or so, these apps have also found their way into a relatively low-frequency buy like hotel accommodation or flights.

In its Online Travel 2020 Report, Travelport has accentuated on the fact that OTAs need to deliver immersive experiences by being where the customer is at every point in the journey. It states that a key threat for OTAs comes from the risk of disintermediation from their customers, as the experience with super apps will likely be better.

Learning from superapps

"Our understanding of travel and mobility is no longer linear and transactional," Gleb Tritus, Managing Director, Lufthansa Innovation Hub (LIH) told me in an interaction in August this year.  Other than shaping the product, LIH is also evaluating how customers are getting into superapps/ ecosystems and how they end up using it. It is important for airlines to learn from such companies as rolling out omnichannel capabilities into legacy systems isn’t a straightforward task.  Learning from superapps would help considering that the fact airlines are evaluating possibilities within the mobility space. They are looking at offering a truly interconnected experience via their own digital assets covering all of the transportation requirements.  A key lies in comprehending how a superapp typically tends to improve the traffic for low frequency products, be it for working on entry points for them on the app interface or via cross-selling.  

Another critical aspect is constantly learning about users and evaluating the quality of recommendations and at the same time ensuring all of such experimentation isn’t a complicated and expensive process. How to set up a viable recommendation engine that not only entail preferences of different users but also trending recommendations or habitual behaviour? At the same time, how to run high-performance, low-latency operations.  For its part, Grab has worked out a microservices architecture set up on data streaming with Apache Kafka. This powers the business as well as paves way for a critical source of intelligence.  

  • It is important to comprehend how a superapp integrates data from multiple applications and sources?
  • How data scientists and other analyst take productive decisions?
  • Eventually how to facilitate these data flows to create an experience that matters?

Travelport underlines that superapps “are well positioned to continuously engage those who are already part of its ecosystem by introducing new features and functions that make the app stickier”.  Also, such apps are leveraging “their data to better target products to customers, at the exact time they need them, and OTAs need to combat this”.

For airlines from their distribution perspective, too, the superapps are a welcome development considering that fact they need to support fragmented distribution, rather than continuously drifting and ending up with a precarious situation where one player in Google ends up controlling the whole travel value chain.

It also remains to be seen how the trend of superapps shapes up outside Asia and lends a new dimension to customer acquisition in the travel e-commerce sector in 2020. A player to watch out for is Airbnb. It is definitely one of those brands that the entire fraternity believes can provide a better answer to the fragmented travel shopping experience. The way Airbnb goes about uniting its staff/ teams across product disciplines, making the most of “creative hacks” or managing complexities associated with product designing, it can provide an answer to when to travel, where to go, and what to do on trips.  


Keen on exploring topics related to digital commerce? Ai has planned #AncillaryRevenue Conferences in Berlin, Bangkok and San Antonio in 2020:



Ai Video: Curbing loyalty fraud with machine learning

12th December, 2019

Airlines are looking at ways to curb illegitimate access to a member's loyalty account and resulting imbalance in a member’s spending or reward activity owing to hacking.

Considering the fact that demand for stolen loyalty currency among the fraudsters or in marketplaces on the dark web is on the rise, the role of machine learning in monitoring high-risk behaviour at account access, purchase and redemption of points/ miles is coming to the fore.

Important aspects that are being explored:

• How to leverage data from the entire loyalty platform ecosystem?

• How to define an apt fraud score limit that points out unusual behaviour?

• How to prepare to identify unrecognised anomalies in transactions?

• How to cut down on the rate of false-positive cases that require manual reviews?

Binay Warrier, Head of Business Development, Loyalty and CRM at IBS Software, spoke about the role of machine learning in keeping a vigil on loyalty fraud.


Ai Video: Nurturing loyalty via positive emotion of being rewarded

6th December, 2019

Airlines are evaluating ways to sharpen their respective loyalty cycles, i. e. letting a member earn and burn faster. What makes the game interesting today is how airlines are looking at including members with relatively lower spend or loyalty currency in this cycle.

As airlines dig deeper, they are evaluating a couple of areas for redemption -

  • How to make a loyalty program relevant to the entire spectrum of members, depending upon how frequently they travel or how much they spend?
  • Offering non-core redemption in order to diversify - a choice of merchandise, gift cards, experiences etc.


Ai Video: Winning loyalty by being more than an FFP

27th November, 2019

How are U. S. carriers looking at making their respective loyalty programs more attractive?

Full-service airlines are not only looking at strengthening their ties with their most frequent traveller base, but they are also evaluating ways to make the entire earn and burn cycle luring for the rest of the members, too.