You are here: Home > Travel News > Airports court fliers with rewards programs

Airports court fliers with rewards programs

“It does encourage me to fly out of Gainesville,” she says. Fuller is a member of Gainesville’s Road Warrior Club, a loyalty program run by the airport. Passengers register online each time they fly, making them eligible for a gift at month’s end.

Airlines, hotels and rental car agencies have offered loyalty programs for decades as a way to retain and attract customers. But now, many airports nationwide, realizing that fliers can drive to competing airports or simply drive to their destinations, are slowly adopting the strategy. The programs are typically free and offer fliers airline miles, prizes or discounts for parking, shopping, dining, or simply flying to and from the airport.

“Airports recognize that there is competition not only among airlines but also between airports,” says Debby McElroy, executive vice president of policy and external affairs for Airports Council International-North America, which represents the governing bodies operating commercial airports in the United States and Canada. “Loyalty programs can help an airport stand out among its competitors.”

At Gainesville, which serves 300,000 passengers a year, 800 members have registered in the Road Warrior Club, which also gives them access to a private lounge. Lafayette Regional Airport in Louisiana, which last year had 449,000 passengers, has the Fly Lafayette Club. Its 2,400 members are entered in a monthly drawing for hotel stays and gift certificates to local restaurants, spas, museums and retail stores.

More than 30 airports across the country, including Portland International and Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International, have joined the Thanks Again program, which awards fliers airline miles for parking, shopping or dining at the airports. More than 100 other airports have merchants or parking garages that participate in Thanks Again, says Marc Ellis, chief executive officer and co-founder of the company.

Other airports focus their programs on parking. Nashville International Airport, for instance, has a frequent-parker program that allows travelers to earn free parking, use designated lanes in parking lots and make payments online. Members initially pay either $20 or $60 for a parking pass.

“I think people fly where they can get the cheapest fares, but if the fares are close and we’re doing things here that the passenger finds value in, then customers will come to our airport,” says Terry Slaybaugh, director of aviation for Ohio’s Dayton International Airport, which has about 2.5 million passengers a year and is part of the Thanks Again network. “It definitely helps us keep the customers we have.”

Growing expectations 

Loyalty programs have been part of American consumer culture since the late 1800s, but it wasn’t until the early 1980s that airlines brought them to the travel industry, says Michael McCall, a professor and chair of marketing and law at the Ithaca College School of Business who studies loyalty programs. Since then, customers have come to expect airlines, hotels and other segments of the travel industry to offer them a chance to reap rewards.

But McCall says few loyalty programs give customers rewards they want or value. When it comes down to it, the main goal of generating loyalty is hard to accomplish, and probably will be more so for airports, McCall says.

“Are (passengers) choosing that airport for reasons of convenience and/or price? And if so, that will make it very hard to generate loyalty on the part of the airport,” he says.

That’s not stopping many airports from trying.

Robert Callahan, a marketing consultant for Lafayette Regional Airport, was inspired by casino rewards programs when designing the Fly Lafayette Club, which replaced an earlier, much smaller loyalty program in March. Travelers simply swipe their membership cards or driver’s licenses at a kiosk after the security checkpoint and automatically become eligible for the prizes. “We know they have choices elsewhere to fly, but we want to reward them for choosing us,” he says.

Ellis helped start Thanks Again in 2004 with merchants such as dry cleaners and non-airport restaurants in several cities and expanded it to airports nationwide in November 2009.

Members register a credit card on the Thanks Again website. When they use them at participating airports, they automatically earn up to one mile per dollar spent. If they spend a certain amount over a 90-day period, they can earn up to five miles per dollar. Participating airlines include Delta, American, United/Continental, US Airways, Alaska and, starting next month, Frontier.

At Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International, which had about 8 million passengers last year, more than 4,000 passengers have signed up for CVGfirst Rewards, its version of Thanks Again, since it was launched in September 2010. Barbara Schempf, an airport spokeswoman, says the airport has five competing airports within a five-hour drive. “This provides us with another way to engage with our customers,” she says.

Rewards pile up 

In addition to the Nook, Laura Fuller has won restaurant gift certificates, theater tickets and Best Buy gift cards from the Gainesville airport. “I bought Christmas gifts one year from some of the stuff I’ve won,” she says. Each month, the Road Warrior who has flown the most gets the top prize. Additional rewards go to randomly selected members who have flown at least once.

Craig Brister flies about twice a month for his job as an oil field salesman, mostly to international destinations. He has the choice of driving to Houston’s airport to catch an international flight but he’d rather stick with Lafayette’s airport, even if it’s smaller.

He and his wife recently dined out with a gift card from the airport. “You know how it is with travel,” he says. “You’re always looking for a perk.”

Tags: ,

  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • Reddit
  • Twitter
  • RSS

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.