Why travel loyalty is about more than just points and status credits
By Kristie Atkins of Wink
After three years of covid cancelled travel adventures, it feels like almost everyone you talk to has been travelling, is travelling or has some kind of travel planned.
Whether a big trip or a small one, over recent years a lot of us have felt like we’ve been missing out on the joy of exploring new places, catching up with distant family and friends or checking things off our bucket list.
The extraordinary demand which has emerged has led to the coining of a new phrase “revenge travel” and many of us are doing it, despite often record high prices as operators try and recoup pandemic losses and fuel costs skyrocket.
Yet while we also try and manage increasingly challenging household budgets, with so much excitement and anticipation, busy lives and the complexity that can come with an Australian visiting the other side of the world, customer experience is surely king, not air miles:
- Agent loyalty – These days a lot of people are happy to plan their adventures entirely themselves, online. For something local, 100%. Yet when it comes to international, it’s nice to have an “old fashioned” (human) travel agent who can bail you out if something goes wrong, can learn about your likes and dislikes and make recommendations. They often get a heads up on forthcoming sales rates, can do easy cost comparisons between different hotels, airlines and tour providers without you needing to visit a hundred websites and, in the case of a deferred trip my hubby and I have had hanging around during covid, agreed to fund “on-board credit” that the provider refused to extend when it lapsed during the pandemic.
- Airline loyalty – On-board experience trumps points every time. Regardless of how many you earn or burn, you can’t change what’s happening inside the cabin. No big points bounty makes up for a poor in-flight experience or feeling like it did not live up to expectations. One recent short(ish) business leg we had cost a small fortune but with the amount of luggage we had, we had no alternative than to get an upgraded fare. Our 1D and 1F seats sounded very fancy but it turned out that there was only one row of business, and the seating was the same as the rest of the plane (three on each side). The only difference was someone had stuck a printed message on the headrest of the middle seat saying, “enjoy your extra space”!
An even more memorable “customer experience” was watching my husband poke the fuselage near his window seat after we once landed in one small place, seeing it literally move and then hearing him say “I thought it would be better to show you this after we landed”. That’s not half as bad as a “first class” flight we once had in Cuba where the window was loose in the plane, the tray table came out of its socket in your hand and the captain emerged from the cockpit mid-flight to sit with his wife and drink a can of beer (yes, true story).
- Hotel loyalty – Location, location, location and service, service, service over points, points, points. When you pick a place to stay on a trip in a city you don’t know and where you may even not know the language, surely being near to key sites, handy to transport, having support for directions, some free Wi-Fi and maybe a laundry solution are more important factors than accruing points in one of the hundreds of free hotel loyalty programs out there. Hotel chains that provide quality surprise and delight experiences, bonus upgrades for loyalty members and other similar benefits are the ones to look for. Otherwise, the welcome drink poured from the bottle of sparkling that’s been sitting in the fridge already open for four days is surely not worth it.
- Banking loyalty – Almost every bank offers an air-miles earning credit card but that does not mean it’s the best card to travel with. Check the costs of using your card overseas (nothing like the bill shock from some of those big fees), query whether it will even be recognised in remote places and make sure you can get local cash from a local ATM rather than getting stung with foreign exchange charges at airport and hotel kiosks. Plus, don’t forget to call your bank or jump online before you travel and register that you’ll be using your card overseas. From experience, it’s a mighty handy thing to have done if you ever get hacked.
- “Historical” loyalty – After having not been in London for a long time, my hubby and I got to pay a visit again to say hi to friends and family that we’d not seen during the covid years. The excitement was building for the King’s coronation, and we got to see where Queen Elizabeth II has been laid to rest alongside her husband, parents and sister in St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle. When Australia had its failed vote back in 1999, I was strongly in the camp that it’s time to become a republic. Maybe with all the other drama in the world now, there are bigger fish to fry. Only time will really tell how loyal we all are.
About Kristie Atkins:
A dynamic business growth and commercial leader, Kristie Atkins is Managing Partner of multi award-winning customer acquisition and retention marketing company, Wink. She is the B&T Women in Media Entrepreneur of the Year, has been named Australian Marketing Institute (AMI) Life Member and Fellow, Australasia’s Certified Practicing Marketer of the Year and Fellow of peak global body, the Chartered Institute of Marketing. She is head judge of the Awards for Marketing Excellence, a member of the Australian Institute of Company Directors and a sought-after guest speaker, panelist and industry mentor. Kristie previously served as divisional Managing Director for Village Roadshow, Chief Operating Officer of Waivpay, Chief Commercial Officer for former marketing services giant Ovato and Director of Sales for Event Hospitality & Entertainment. She is on the board of Restaurant & Catering Industry Association Australia, Hunter Medical Research Institute (and Chairs HMRI Foundation) and the advisory board of international fashion company Azura Runway.
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