I’m a semi-seasoned traveller. There are certainly people who have travelled more than I have, but in the past year I’ve put some miles under my belt. When I decided to course correct my life, I didn’t expect to be able to visit different parts of the world and I never thought I’d do it alone. Yet, one year later here I am, planning whether or not I need to take another trip and having serious discussions about which airline to take.

I know it seems frivolous compared to most other problems, but when you spend a good majority of your time overseas, your airline becomes your home. The amount of time you spend on deciding what kind of bed you want, whether you need a better computer or a new trash can — that’s the same kind of attention I spend on deciding who to be loyal too.

Instead of going for the cheapest fare, I went for the best, long term deal. The idea being that my loyalty to one scheme would provide me with better upgrades. Loyalty is driven by deeper engagement and personalized contact. None of which British Airways seems to understand. 

61% of marketers believe that loyalty-program participants are the best and most profitable customers. Given that a majority of marketers and consumers believe in loyalty programs…you’d think British Airways would take better care of their customers. Well, you’d be wrong. 

It’s no secret why their nickname is ‘Bloody Awful’. The customer support is horrendous and BA is a walking textbook of how not to run your loyalty program.

Top complaints of loyalty programs:

  • Nearly 30% of  customers see little or no added value to becoming a loyalty member
  • 24% indicate rewards lack substance; a similar percentage feel they don’t get enough personalized attention
  • 21% have problems with receiving too much spam e-mail and junk mail
  • 23% cite lack of individualized communication
  • And 18% have issues with redeeming points and miles

DING! DING! DING! Hits the mark when it comes to BA’s program. Not only has BA not correctly awarded my tier points, but they have also

  • sent me unnecessary emails
  • communicated with me in a style that is straight out of a textbook help center manual

and considering how much I flew with them, they could have AT least tried to keep my flights from being delayed or cancelled. Mind you, this was every single flight I had…delayed or cancelled. So what’s the issue here? I believe that BA is putting too much effort into social media to attract new customers and ignoring their current group of loyal fliers.

While social media is a huge investment and time sink for most airlines, customers are still reporting that point-of-sale information, service-representative interactions, company Web sites and word-of-mouth are their primary sources for learning about loyalty clubs. Nearly 65% acquired information about the programs in retail environments compared with only 4% in social-media networks, 3% in blogs and 11% in online advertising. This isn’t surprising when you consider that consumers who are engaged in loyalty programs demand personalized interactions rather than mass messages. People to people interaction still matters!

So with all this proof in my face, I have no choice but to pack up and leave. While I am at a disadvantage in the short term, British Airways is at a disadvantage in the long term. They lose a customer who travels long distances, in the flexible class, frequently. More importantly, they lose the ability to create a brand ambassador, someone whom others may listen to when making purchases. The big question being, “How much do loyalty memberships influence purchasing decisions and attachment to brands?”

  • 52% of users say Club Membership is a big factor when making purchasing decisions.
  • When it comes to word-of-mouth, nearly 20% of club members say they are big brand boosters
  • 50% say they sometimes talk up the product or service they support

On the other hand, 54% of survey respondents stated they would give up their loyalty or rewards club membership if they had a poor product or service experience with a brand. When people have lots of options, airlines don’t have a choice to ignore their customers. 

“Customers are issuing a very clear warning to marketers. Give me relevant communications that reflect my history and connections to you, or we will go elsewhere with our business. Smart marketers will respond by taking what they know about customer wants, preferences and behaviors to be more targeted, efficient and relevant in their messaging to improve response rates and increase customer gratification and purchase intent.”


Want to see the whole study? Visit CMO Council