Transport Airlines

How Delta mines data to build passenger profiles and better target customers

@denschaal

Jan 25, 2013 12:22 pm

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If you fly on an airplane or surf the Web, you are bait for marketing and advertising purposes.

— Dennis Schaal

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Doug  / Flickr.com

Delta's regional jet concourse in Detroit. Doug / Flickr.com


Want to know how airlines today are different than five years ago? Lots of new fees, tighter capacity, and one under-the-radar trend: They are collecting lots of data about individual passengers and they are using the information to fine-tune their marketing toward individual travelers and groups of them.

That trend was brought home when a number of websites, including Loyalty Lobbythe Beat and FlyerTalk, detailed how Delta Air Lines is collecting detailed personal data about SkyMiles members to profile and market to them.

It appears that Delta is gathering detailed information about SkyMiles members, including customer numbers, birthdates, gender, home airport, income, co-branded card information, and even Experian Mosaic classifications to market to passengers based on “sociodemographics, lifestyles, behaviors and culture.”

Delta didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

I signed into SkyMiles and looked up my information, and Delta didn’t have many details about me beyond my home airport and most recent flight because I don’t fly Delta very often.

But, for other travelers, Delta collects information on the value of their homes, income, home airport, credit card brands, whether they have children, hotel brand preference, and how they are classified in the Experian profiles, for example.

Loyalty Lobby outlined the steps SkyMiles members can take to look up their profiles (and it works for now, but Delta likely will block it soon).

Here are the steps, according to Loyalty Lobby, which noted the information first was published on FlyerTalk:

  1. Log into you SkyMiles account
  2. Plug the following URL (https://www.delta.com/databroker/bcdata.action) to the same browser and copy the text
  3. Copy/paste it to your favorite text application

This is the battle that airlines are currently fighting with their distribution partners: The airlines want to be the ones to control this passenger information so they can better target passengers in email marketing and across their websites.

All of this takes place as global airlines are also developing “value scores” in cooperation with the Airline Tariff Publishing Co. to determine how much value — spending power etc. — each passenger wields for the airline.

There may be a “new American” and a new Delta, too, in the works, and behind the scenes there is a new global airline industry that is using data to hone its marketing skills.

Update: Here’s a statement from Delta on the issue:

“Like many companies, Delta uses demographic and other data to help provide a personalized experience for our customers, improve how we communicate with them and design offers customized to their interests.  While the data displayed was only available to the specific user, we sincerely regret that this code displayed and the confusion it may have caused for our customers. We worked to resolve the issue promptly upon discovering it.”

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