Membership of frequent flyer loyalty programmes has become a key factor in determining the choice of hotel or airline for both business and leisure travellers, according to research from loyalty programme provider ICLP.
Only 30% of travellers interviewed rated membership of a frequent flyer programme (FFP) as being "unimportant", while most (70%) believed it to be "fairly" or "extremely important" in deciding their choice of airline or hotel chain. According to Stuart Evans, general manager for ICLP, "It would appear that those who are members of FFPs rate them very highly and recognise the inherent benefits of membership."
Almost two-thirds (63%) of FFP members said they would also consider booking a last minute break due to an impromptu communication by the programme operator, while only 36% believed such an offer would not influence them at all (and 1% did not know). Evans therefore suggests that members of programmes seem to be more receptive to offers than those who receive unsolicited offerings.
The research used the Priority Pass database, and over 1,200 members were questioned. Priority Pass is an independent airport VIP lounge programme through which members have access to over 500 VIP lounges in more than 90 countries and 275 cities, regardless of which airline they are flying with or their class of travel. The majority of members are regular business travellers.
More travel obtained online
For both business and leisure airline travellers the airlines' home page was found to be the most important channel, with 81% using it to source leisure travel, from accommodation and flights, and 68% of business travellers doing the same.
In addition, 45% of leisure and 36% of business travellers said they use third-party web sites (such as lastminute.com or Travelocity) to source and purchase their travel, compared to only 23% and 9% respectively for High Street travel agencies and retailers.
However, bookings made direct with the airlines via the phone are relatively insignificant with only 14% of leisure and 12% of business travellers ever using this option. A further 12% (leisure) and 10% (business) also phone through requests via third-party operators (such as Trailfinders).
There are still considerable numbers of bookings using company travel agents, which traditionally source the best deals and have a seamless and one stop arrangement. Evans explained: "The significance of the power of the internet can not be underestimated. It is singularly the most powerful marketing tool that the airline industry possesses. The internet has become, in a short period of time, the preferred method for sourcing information and booking travel arrangements. The high street is losing its appeal and kudos; where once it was the main point of contact for travellers it is now a less important destination and is losing ground fast to the new mediums."
Airline and hotel loyalty participation
Almost everyone questioned belonged to at least one airline or hotel programme (96%), with less than 4% belonging to no such programmes at all.
While 67% were members of between 1 and 5 programmes, 16% of respondents were members of 2 airline or hotel programmes. A further 2% were members of 6 to 9 programmes. Interestingly, a little over 4% said they were members of more than 10 such programmes.
Most-held loyalty cards
The most held membership was the British Airways Executive Club card (67%), followed by the Hilton HHonors programme (37%) and Priority Club Rewards (32%). These leaders were followed in membership by Marriott Rewards (28%), Virgin Atlantic Flying Club (26%), KLM Flying Blue (25%), Starwood Preferred Guest (22%), and bmi Diamond Club (21%). Those below 20% included Lufthansa Miles & More, Air France Flying Blue, American AAdvantage and Emirates Skywards.