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Airlines Take Flight without Data

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Deregulation of the US airline industry in 1978 was intended to create a competitive environment that would benefit the flying public and bring profitability to the airlines. With a number of bull and bear cycles under the belt, 2009 finds the airlines continuing to struggle for profits, and consumers once again being punished just for showing up at the gate.

The airlines pioneered the loyalty marketing business, linking customer data, profitability measures, and the reservation system to change the way all consumer facing companies viewed their customer policies. Since American’s AAdvantage program launched in 1981, the airlines have awarded zillions of miles to loyal frequent flyers and have collected untold terabytes of customer data.

It is astounding to see that the data collected remains largely under-utilized. My latest mailing from American congratulated me on my status with them and included some offers marked “specially for you”. I was disappointed to see that the offers had no connection to my preferences and looked like this:

  • Offer to purchase additional frequent flyer miles
  • Bose QuietComfort 2 headphones offer
  • Directv – switch and receive 10,000 miles
  • A credit card offer (actually two different ones)
  • A sweepstakes offer in connection with MyCokeRewards.com

Not only are the airlines missing a significant opportunity to engage their best customers based on data they already possess, they are eroding their value proposition by adding fees to multiple aspects of the in-flight experience as well as their frequent flyer programs.

A struggling industry should leverage the lowest cost assets they own and use this low-hanging fruit to generate profitability as well as engender brand loyalty. Why not take steps to use the valuable data they have gathered over time.

The favorite subject for most humans to talk about is “me”. Flyers are waiting to spill the beans on their preferences and all the airlines have to do is ask.

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