Elevating Members: How Brands Can Effectively Manage Elite and Lifetime Tiers in Customer Loyalty Programs

A “lifetime tier” in a loyalty program refers to a special level or status that a customer attains based on their long-term loyalty and cumulative spending with a particular brand. Unlike regular tiers in a loyalty program, which customers may achieve through meeting annual spending requirements or accumulating points within a specific time frame, a lifetime tier is typically a permanent or long-term status. To reach a lifetime tier, a customer usually needs to demonstrate a significant and enduring commitment to the company. These exclusive tiers for long-term customers can include VIP benefits, personalized experiences, and privileged access to special events and promotions.   

Loyalty360 spoke with supplier members and loyalty strategy experts about marketing loyalty programs’ lifetime/elite tiers to members, how brands can keep members engaged at these higher levels, and what metrics to measure to ensure the success and effectiveness of lifetime loyalty tiers. 

Article contributors:  

  • Steve Palladino, Chief Growth Officer, Group FiO  

  • Bindu Gupta, Associate Vice President, Phaedon – formerly known as ICF Next  

  • Connie Sisco, Senior Connections Strategist, Phaedon – formerly known as ICF Next  

  • Padmashwini Raghunathan, Product Manager for TCS Customer Intelligence & Insights™ for retail and TCS Loyalty Management, TCS Digital Software & Solutions  

  • Peter Vogel, Chief Revenue Officer, vPromos 

Communicating Value 
Brands must planfully decide how their loyalty program’s lifetime or elite tier is marketed and communicated to customers and members. While all messaging to members should be carefully crafted, members at these higher levels — or members targeted to move toward the elevated tiers — can require additional fine-tuning to engage them to retain status or motivate them to attain it. This is crucial to driving engagement and ensuring success. Group FiO’s Palladino stresses that consistency in messaging and transparency are key to maintaining trust and keeping members engaged in the long term.  

“Continuously assess the effectiveness of your communication strategies and make adjustments as needed to ensure your lifetime or elite-tier loyalty program is successful,” says Palladino. “Consistency in messaging and transparency are key to maintaining trust and keeping members engaged in the long term.” 

He suggests the following strategies to effectively market and communicate premium tiers:  

  • Segment the audience based on customer activity, spending habits, or other relevant metrics, and identify customers who are most likely to benefit and appreciate the elite tier.  

  • Craft personalized messages for different customer segments.  

  • Clearly communicate the benefits of the elite tier.   

  • Communicate through multiple channels, including email, social media, in-app messages, and even physical mail (if applicable). 

  • Offer a sneak peek or exclusive access to some of the elite tier’s benefits.  

  • Share success stories or testimonials from members who have benefited from the elite tier.  

To these strategies, TCS’ Raghunathan recommends adding gamification, emphasizing that with frequent communication and an engaging environment that reminds customers of milestones leading to the next elevated status, customers are inherently motivated to raise their game.  

“This gamified environment can be consistently presented to customers across their interaction channels — in-store, app, online, etc. — to keep them engaged,” says Raghunathan. 

Phaedon’s Sisco believes a loyalty program’s lifetime or elite tier is for the top members who are already integrating the brand into their lifestyle.  

“Those customers have spent countless hours and dollars with your brand, and that level of loyalty should be rewarded and celebrated,” affirms Sisco. “These most valuable members expect that communication will convey a sense of a one-on-one relationship, with truly personalized messaging.”  

For customers who aspire to reach this elite tier, brands must emphasize the exclusivity and unique benefits they can attain. Sisco reminds brands that this needs to be made clear: reaching this higher level offers an elite experience and rare privileges, such as bringing family or friends along to encourage an aspirational mindset. It also underscores that the brand truly cares about its members, especially the advocates who have invested in the journey to reach the elite tier.  

Raghunathan echoes this sentiment. “Marketing a lifetime or elite tier needs to go beyond just selling benefits — it needs to be about creating a genuine sense of belonging and appreciation.”  


Keeping Members Engaged at the Elevated Tier 
Maintaining member engagement after customers attain a lifetime or elite status tier is critical to keeping the program successful. Once a member attains the highest level or lifetime status, it’s vital to introduce some experiential rewards for those in the top tier. vPromos’ Vogel notes that it makes top-tier members feel appreciated when recognized with a unique offering.  

“You’re giving your best customers an even more motivating incentive to continue or increase their engagement with your brand,” says Vogel. “Depending on your brand, an experiential award could be sought-after events tickets, private member events, early access to unreleased merchandise, or even a more concierge-like level of service.”  

Phaedon’s Gupta adds that engaging elite-tier and lifetime members can also include offering them early access to new benefits or even the opportunity to beta-test those benefits while collecting feedback — which can help improve the elite experience while empowering those members.   

“Brands not only need to meet the baseline expectations of these members but exceed them to keep them engaging at these elite levels,” says Gupta. “Use the wealth of zero- and first-party data you have on members to craft truly personalized and unique experiences to go above and beyond.”  

Gupta offers an example: a travel brand might provide dedicated customer service or a separate hotline for elite members. These perks demonstrate the one-on-one personalized connection the brand prioritizes and further solidifies customer loyalty and satisfaction.  

Travel industry loyalty programs are not without their woes. Raghunathan points out that keeping elite-status members engaged is becoming a bigger challenge because so many have reached the highest tier.  

“Suddenly, the sense of exclusivity is lost,” explains Raghunathan. “For example, if ‘elite’ tier members can move to a fast checkout lane as a benefit and the lane is already swarming with customers, there is no real perceived benefit.”  

Purpose-led engagement — where the customer’s sense of purpose gels well with the brand’s purpose so that they never get lost in the crowd — is key. Raghunathan provides a couple of examples: offering elite customers who bonded with the brand due to its social consciousness a view into how a portion of the brand’s earnings is used to create a better world or creating communities with like-minded customers and gamified rewards such as leaderboards and badges that can be shared within the community. The latter provides an incentive to the person interested in the status that this tier brings.  

“Occasionally surprising elite members with unexpected rewards or gestures of appreciation with things like free upgrades, special gifts, or a handwritten ‘thank you’ can help create lasting goodwill,” Raghunathan finishes. All of this can foster emotional loyalty to the brand

Effective Practices in Action 
Loyalty360 asked the experts if there were any noteworthy best practices or examples of brands that have effectively implemented a lifetime or elite status in their loyalty programs and to highlight benefits or personalized experiences that stood out. 

“There are several brands showcasing the effectiveness of offering elite status tiers with compelling benefits and personalization to enhance the loyalty program experience and build strong, lasting customer relationships,” says Palladino. He singles out Starbucks, Hilton, and Sephora. 

  • Starbucks Rewards: Starbucks offers an elite status level called Starbucks Gold for its loyalty program members. Gold members receive a personalized gold card and free drinks on their birthday. They’re also eligible for exclusive promotions. The program effectively leverages personalized recommendations, encouraging members to try new menu items based on their previous purchases.  

  • Hilton Honors: This program offers elite status levels, including Diamond and Ambassador Elite. Diamond members receive benefits like room upgrades, complimentary breakfast, and access to executive lounges. Ambassador Elite members enjoy personalized services with a dedicated ambassador who ensures their stay is tailored to their preferences. Hilton also offers a Lifetime Diamond tier for its most loyal and longtime members who have held the Diamond status for 10 years, completed 1,000 stays, and earned 2M points. 

  • Sephora Beauty Insider: Sephora’s program offers elite status levels, including VIB (Very Important Beauty Insider) and Rouge. VIB and Rouge members enjoy early access to products, free custom makeovers, and exclusive events. Sephora personalizes product recommendations based on a member’s beauty preferences and purchase history. 

For Raghunathan, Marriott and Delta are two brands that have illustrated best practices, including leveraging personalization, exclusivity, and ongoing engagement.  

  • Marriott Bonvoy: This loyalty program offers different elite tiers, including Silver, Gold, Platinum, Titanium, and Ambassador. Lifetime status can be achieved in these tiers based on a combination of nights stayed and years of loyalty. The brand provides exclusive benefits like room upgrades, late checkout, and bonus points.   

  • Delta SkyMiles*: The airline offers elite status tiers, including Silver, Gold, Platinum, and Diamond. Lifetime status can be achieved based on a combination of miles flown and years of loyalty. Elite members receive benefits such as priority boarding, complimentary upgrades, and bonus miles.  

*For expert perspectives about the recent changes to Delta’s SkyMiles program and customers’ reactions, see: Delta SkyMiles Program Changes and Member Backlash: What Can Brands Learn? 

Gupta cites American Airlines’ AAdvantage program, which provides lifetime elite members with expected perks such as free checked bags, priority boarding, and lounge access. 


Measuring Performance and Effectiveness 
A commitment to ongoing evaluation must be made. Brands need to determine which key performance indicators (KPIs) or metrics should be utilized to assess the success and effectiveness of their program’s lifetime loyalty tiers. Insights gathered from this critical data will help marketers and loyalty professionals decide what should be added to further reward, recognize, and delight elite members — and what should be cut.  

Gupta believes KPIs should include customer retention rate, average spend increase, referral rates, participation rate, and churn rate.  

“These metrics can provide insights into whether lifetime or elite members are staying engaged with the program, making repeat purchases, increasing their spending, and advocating for the brand,” says Gupta. “It’s also important to monitor engagement KPIs such as email open and click-through rates, app usage patterns, and the utilization of exclusive benefits to determine if these members are excited to take advantage of the unique opportunities available to this top tier.”  

According to Gupta, understanding the Net Promoter Score (NPS) to gauge elite member satisfaction and their willingness to recommend the brand is also particularly important for this exclusive subset of members. Palladino agrees that high NPS scores indicate satisfaction and loyalty. 

Raghunathan provides a sampling of KPIs segmented by behavioral and emotional metrics for brands to consider:  

Behavioral Metrics:  

  • Customer Retention Rate  

  • Customer Lifetime Value  

  • Average Order Value (AOV)  

Emotional Metrics:  

  • Satisfaction Score  

  • Referral Rate  

  • Net Promoter Score  

  • Emotional Loyalty Score  

  • Sentiment Score   

  • Influencer Score  

“It’s important to regularly review and adapt these measurements to ensure the program continues to deliver value to both the brand and its members,” emphasizes Raghunathan.  

Vogel notes that normally in a loyalty program, his company would compare the AOV and/or frequency of purchases, segmenting by members and non-members. These KPIs are just as important to look at between average program members and lifetime status members.  

“Is your lifetime status tier actually driving lift above average program member activity?” asks Vogel.  

Palladino’s list of relevant metrics is similar to those of his colleagues. Some of the additional KPIs he advises brands to watch include:  

  • Member Acquisition Rate: How many new members are joining the lifetime loyalty tier over time?  

  • Engagement Metrics: This includes tracking the frequency of activities, logins, purchases, and interactions with program elements.  

  • Redemption Rate: How often are members in the lifetime tier redeeming rewards or utilizing exclusive benefits? Higher redemption is better.  

  • Revenue and Profit Metrics: Analyze the impact of the lifetime loyalty tier on the company’s revenue and profitability.  

  • Cost of Acquisition: Calculate the cost of acquiring/retaining these members. Compare to the revenue generated to assess program ROI.  

  • Conversion Rates: Measure the conversion rate of regular tier members to the lifetime loyalty tier.  

  • Program-Related KPIs: Track specific KPIs related to the benefits offered in the lifetime tier (e.g., premium services, exclusive event attendance, personalized recommendations).  

  • Data Analytics: Leverage data analytics to gain insights into member behavior, preferences, and patterns.  

  • Operational Efficiency: Evaluate program management, cost-effectiveness, and if it’s operating within its budget.  

  • Competitive Benchmarking: Compare the performance of the lifetime loyalty tier to industry benchmarks and competitors to understand where it stands in the market. 

“These KPIs can provide a comprehensive view of the success and effectiveness of lifetime loyalty tiers,” finishes Palladino. “It’s important to regularly review and analyze these metrics to make data-driven decisions and continuously improve the program.” 

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