The Case for Loyalty Travel

“Spencer, you know I always take care of you and we’ll continue to do so.” And with those words, I shook Jay’s hands, told him goodbye, and walked out, knowing I’d be back sooner, rather then later. No, Jay isn’t my roommate or best friend. He’s not my brother or boss. Rather, he’s the manager at the Hertz I frequent in my neighborhood in San Francisco. It was an experience I couldn’t help to write about, not due to his words, but rather the actions that backed them. The fact is that I’m not a loyalty traveler, predominantly because few hotels, car rental agencies, and airlines have taken the action to warrant it. Case in point: I fly much more with other airlines, rather then the one my family works for. However, a couple recent experiences, one by Virgin America, and another by Hertz, have changed my feelings on loyalty travel.

Airship As I waited on hold, standing just outside of my rental car in a Los Angeles shopping center parking lot, I pondered how I would respond to Hertz, as a rubbed my hand along my driver’s side tire, feeling the prickly wires sticking out and noticing the absence of tread. The car was no longer safe to drive. The possible responses were numerous, which included shouting about Hertz from the rooftops of Twitter, flipping tables, kicking my tire, or cursing out the customer service representative. Feeling a sense of loyalty to Hertz, I wanted to see how they responded, and so I listened kindly and patiently. And respond they did, going over and beyond my hopes and expectations. An hour later I was leaving the local Hertz dealer with an upgraded replacement car and a couple days later when I arrived back in San Francisco to return the car, Jay made sure I didn’t leave without feeling more then satisfied at the outcome, which included a credit toward this rental and a future rental. When I shook Jay’s hand and walked out, we both knew I would be returning.

Before we continue any further, I see it as my duty to tell you that I’m eventually tying this back to Expedia, who I have a partnership with. If you’re already bored or turned off, watch this dope adventure travel video with the new GoPro Hero3 or find out what the most interesting man in the world thinks of fanny packs (While I have a partnership with Expedia, I do not have a partnership with GoPro or Dos Equis, although if given the chance, I doubt I would turn it down.)

American Airlines Plane Let’s just be real: We, as humans, aren’t very loyal these days it would seem. Raise your hand if price is of greater importance to you then customer service? *Raises both hands*. With a marketplace that’s so inundated with hotels, car rental agencies, and airlines, it’s easy to comparison shop based on price. When I recently went to Twitter to ask about travel loyalty, while some showed loyalty, many stated that price was the deciding factor in using a hotel, airline, or car rental company. Yet if we’re talking about the hospitality industry, should there not be a strong sense of hospitality felt? Travel, at its core is meant to be a stress-free and hospitable experience, but listen to many people’s travel experiences and they would tell you otherwise.

So what does it take for you to become a loyal to one travel brand over all of the rest? Customer service? Loyalty rewards? A study conducted by InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) last year  showed that global travelers treat loyalty points as currency, ranking it higher then any other perks or benefits that a hotel can offer. Are we all then striving to be Ryan Bingham (If you have no idea who this is, drop what you’re doing, call your belle/beau, and watch Up in the Air together tonight)? It’s these and other questions that I’m asking myself as I find myself becoming a more loyal traveler, and these questions that I’ll be asking tomorrow, Wednesday, October 24, during the latest installment of #Expchat on Twitter (See above regarding tying back to Expedia).

I, with Expedia, want to know how loyalty travel, and especially Expedia Rewards, can be better. This is your chance to openly give feedback about an important part of travel and a company at the forefront of it. Have something to praise? Let’s hear it. Have a gripe? Bring it! I’ll be joined by fellow travel bloggers Kirsten Alana of Aviators and a Camera and Dave and Deb of ThePlanetD, as well as Expedia. Meanwhile, I’d love to hear your thoughts:

What makes you loyal to a travel brand? What perks would you like to see from travel brands from their loyalty programs?

8 Comments on “The Case for Loyalty Travel

  1. Price will get me to use a brand, but customer service and rewards programs done right will keep me coming back, even if the price is a little more from time to time.

    • I REALLY like how you said that Michelle. That’s what has made me so loyal to Virgin America, for example. A couple occasions I have received absolutely stellar customer service, and now try to use them every time I can as such, even if I’m paying a little more.

  2. I agree with Michelle, however even ,ore important than price is value for money. When I am travelling on business, price is less important than value added services. When I am on my own budget I am more price sensitive. However customer service is crucial as well as consistency in service. With regards to loyalty programs, they shouldn’t be too complicated and too difficult to redeem. So many loyalty programs have too many T &Cs to make them easily understandable. There should be a range of awards available.

    • I like how you put that. While savvy travelers may be able to read through the terms and conditions and “get it”, I think many loyalty travel programs just don’t make sense to many people. I’d love to see it made more simple.

  3. I use loyalty programs more as currency than for benefits. At least in terms of airlines. I do have Gold Medallion status on Delta and I appreciate the perks that can come with that, but they’re nonessential. The sometimes expedited security lines, always free checked bags (Even though I don’t check bags usually), always priority boarding (Though my goal is always last one on, first one off), quicker response when you have to call customer service and bonus frequent flyer miles. These are things that can make the whole flight experience more pleasant, which is great if you do it an awful lot.

    But here’s my rub with most airline loyalty programs: They advertise a product that is almost impossible for the typical person to get. Take Delta, for instance. They’ll push their cobranded American Express card on every flight and in every hub and say, “Sign up for this card and get enough miles for a free flight”. The reality of the situation is that it’s almost impossible to get a free flight at the advertised rate. The next time I find a 25,000 mile award ticket on Delta will be the first.

    Of course, if you know some of the tricks to get around those loyalty programs, then the world is your playground. So there are 2 very different sides to loyalty programs. There’s the treatment you might get on your trip and there’s the currency side of it. I feel the currency side of the program tends to be a minefield that you have to devote a lot of time to get what you want. Because, 25,000 mile flights to Honolulu don’t exist in December or January.

    • Cory, you bring up some great points. I’m glad you said what you did about the catch with most airline loyalty programs. Unless you’re Ryan Bingham, it’s hard for there to be a real payoff for the everyday traveler. I’d love to see the loyalty travel industry be revamped to where there is actually some benefits for more then just the dedicated business traveler. Thanks for the great points!

  4. I’m super loyal to a couple of brands, in particular to Virgin Atlantic and have been to my pocket’s detriment for years. However, Virgin in particular sometimes make it hard to love them, they’re onboard experience is great, they’re lounge at heathrow is second to none but that’s it. They’re IT product can be lousy, redeeming your miles with them for a flight (upgrades are a little easier, but still difficult) is very very difficult and absolutely not worth it for economy – you can almost certainly find a cheaper/within same price economy return as you’ll pay in the carrier imposed fuel surcharge…it’s not a tax, it’s virgin atlantic imposed. I should be fair and point out that it’s the same with BA.

    With hotels it’s easier, they’ve better availability for upgrades, they’re points are easier to use and without cost. It’s not difficult for me to stay loyal to the Hilton.

    • All good points and I absolutely agree Simon. I’m very loyal to Virgin, but the problem is that they don’t fly to so many destinations that I fly to. I love the onboard experience, yet I don’t get to fly them often because they don’t have enough routes. I’ve heard good things about Hilton, although I’ve been quite loyal to Hyatt Passport. Thanks man.

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