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Many airline loyalty programs are failing to deliver on their intended purpose because members do not understand how to redeem their rewards, according to the J.D. Power 2019 Airline Loyalty Program Satisfaction Study. One key finding in they study notes, nearly half (45 percent) of program members say they do not understand how to redeem their miles and/or points. This lack of understanding has a significant negative effect on overall customer satisfaction.
“This is the third year in a row that we’ve seen airline loyalty program customer satisfaction hampered by a widespread lack of understanding of how to extract the most value from the programs,” says Michael Taylor, Travel Intelligence Lead at J.D. Power.
“Many airlines are evaluating the success of their loyalty programs based on dollars spent by travelers rather than on miles flown. That’s a significant shift away from rewarding frequent travelers and toward rewarding high spenders.”
The survey, based on responses from 3,188 rewards program members, asks respondents to rank satisfaction with programs based on: the ability to earn points and redeem for awards; program benefits; account management and member communication.
JetBlue's TrueBlue loyalty program was the favorite among travelers for the third year in a row in J.D. Power's 2019 Airline Loyalty Program Satisfaction Study.
According to the study’s key takeaways, lack of understanding program details negatively affects satisfaction. In 2018, airline loyalty program member satisfaction climbed 135 points when members understand how to redeem points and increases 129 points when members understand how to earn points.
The survey measures member satisfaction with airline rewards and loyalty programs based on four factors (in order of importance): earning and redeeming rewards (34 percent); program benefits (27 percent); account management (24 percent); and member communication (15 percent).
JetBlue's TrueBlue program had the highest score with 821 points, followed by Southwest Airlines’ Rapid Rewards with a score of 812 and Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan with a score of 810. Delta’s SkyMiles program scored 791, just above the overall industry average of 789. American Airlines’ AAdvantage program and United’s MileagePlus program each scored 764.
While lack of understanding program details negatively affects satisfaction, recognition goes a long way toward building customer loyalty. Similarly, overall satisfaction climbs 68 points when a member of the airline staff recognizes a loyalty program member’s status during the booking, check-in, departure or flight.
Among specific benefits and rewards used through airline loyalty programs, discounts on airport and limousine services drive the most significant increase in overall satisfaction (+102 points), followed by waiving same-day change fees (+95) and lowest rate guarantee (+94).
Lastly, airlines should continue to focus on mobile experience for their program members. Mobile app usage among loyalty program members has increased 10 percent during the past year, with 56 percent of program members reporting that they have such a mobile app on their smartphone or tablet. Loyalty members with mobile apps are more satisfied overall (+70 points) than members without the mobile app.
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