As travel loyalty programmes proliferate and improve their options and benefits, an increasing number of small business travellers (SBTs) are embracing them, according to a report by the American Small Business Travelers Alliance (ASBTA).
ASBTA's 2006 Travel Loyalty Program Survey noted that, with a few key exceptions, most travel loyalty programmes are still relatively new. Not surprisingly, the longest-established programmes were found to be leading the way in terms of programme improvements and developments.
According to ASBTA's president, Chuck Sharp, "In recent months, both new and old travel loyalty programmes have begun taking notice of SBTs, and now more than ever, it seems, those SBTs are responding."
Increases in membership
The association's survey revealed that 75% of respondents belong to some type of travel loyalty programme (an increase of 10% over the 2005 survey).
More than half of the respondents (56%) indicated that travel loyalty programmes are important to them.
The most frequently used travel loyalty programmes were frequent flyer programmes (64%) and hotel clubs (54%), followed by rental car clubs (31%).
With some of the oldest and most-trusted travel loyalty programmes, airlines were the natural front-runner. American Airlines' AAdvantage programme, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this month, currently claims some 50 million members.
The ASBTA survey confirmed that popularity with 47% of respondents indicating they are members of the AAdvantage programme, followed by Delta Airlines' SkyMiles (37%), United Airlines' Mileage Plus (33%) and Southwest Airlines' Rapid Rewards (23%). The three programmes were also selected, in the same order, as the most preferred programmes of their type.
There were also clear favourites among hotel clubs, with Hilton HHonors (36%), Marriott Rewards (35%) and Priority Club (30%) being named as the top three frequent guest programmes.
The results for car rental clubs were more evenly distributed, although Hertz, Avis and Budget were cited as the top three programmes for most respondents.
Influencers of choice
But perhaps the most surprising results of the survey were the factors named when selecting an airline or hotel. When selecting an airline, the fifth most important factor was the frequent flyer programme. At 39%, this factor followed price, schedule, reliability and service - but was seen as being more important than overhead space and leg room on a plane, as well as in-flight amenities, among other factors.
Sharp observed: "In the past year, our surveys have indicated increasing usage of travel loyalty programmes among small business travellers. Simultaneously, we've watched the quantity and quality of travel loyalty programmes increase." ASBTA aims to educate small business travellers by promoting the travel industry as a whole. It provides travellers with information and services, as well as savings on air fares, car rentals and accommodation.