Pi Attitude Zone: Affiliation & Cohesion

Why Angels Have Wings: Airmiles

One of the really important questions you need to ponder on your deathbed, it seems, is... who will inherit your airmiles and loyalty-card points?

That seems to be the gist of Inherit the Windfall: Passing On Loyalty Points, a report by Colloquy, a US-based research resource which “educates loyalty marketers”.  The title alone gave new meaning to the concept of “passing on”.

Actually, before getting into the eternal mysteries of what happens to our airmiles in the afterlife, Colloquy’s study revealed some fascinating facts.  First, the number of people enrolled in loyalty programs has almost tripled since the year 2000, to 2.65 billion.  The typical American-based major airline (Delta, United, American Airlines...) has between 70 million and 90 million people collecting their airmiles.  Membership of big hotel loyalty schemes (Marriott, Hilton...), hovers around the 40 million mark.  Count up the miles and points all those travelers have accumulated, and we are talking big numbers – total value in the tens of billions of dollars.

Colloquy worried that post-death points-transfer practices are patchy, and that “only 12% of Americans [are] familiar with their program's policy regarding the transfer of a deceased collector's points”.  With a minatory wag of his index finger, the report-writer warned that “the loyalty shown by program members should be acknowledged by marketers or program operators in the event of death”.  He recognized that “offering free points transfers [after death] would not necessarily attract new members” (!!!)  but pronounced it “ the sort of empathy... [that] could promote long-term retention and engagement with beneficiaries”. Ah, so now we know.

Actually Pi is struggling to suppress its disbelief (indeed its guffaws), for two main reasons.  First, the idea that anything as ephemeral as loyalty points and miles should pass from generation to generation seems loopy. The things were designed to increase commitment to travel-related brands in the relatively short term, and boost uptake of spare capacity.  If these incentives were to retain their full value and sit around in their billions for decades, the implied liability would be enough to break most airlines.  That’s why the currency of points and miles is quietly devalued on an ongoing basis.  A 50,000-mile stash which once bought a trans-Atlantic round trip will now only get you an upgrade or two on paid-for flights.  The idea of stockpiling miles for decades, let alone passing them on to your descendants, thus makes little sense.

But the main problem is that consumers seem to invest little faith or attention in loyalty schemes anyway.  According to recent investigative work by McKinsey, over sixty percent of US consumers are signed up for at least one loyalty scheme.  Typical households are enrolled in over eighteen.  Yet they seem to actively use less than half of them, walking away from the opportunity of gaining vast numbers of customer reward points.  Less than 20% of those enrolled say the schemes influence their choice of purchases or purchase locations.  It’s as if they don’t care.

Pi is left pondering how you should be spending your last hours on Earth.  Deathbed confessions and conversions?  By all means.  But deathbed assignment of your airmiles?  C’mon, be serious.

Zone: Affiliation & Cohesion Country: USA / North America Product – Travel