Since November, you haven’t had to fly to collect frequent flier miles or points in your favorite loyalty program.

Albany International Airport now offers miles or points for everything from parking and dining to purchases in airport shops. Customers can direct those miles or points to a frequent flier program of their choice.

The program, Thanks Again, counts nearly 1,000 members within a 75-mile radius of the airport, airport spokesman Doug Myers said.

The program seeks to give travelers another reason to use Albany instead of driving to Hartford, Boston or Newburgh in search of a cheaper fare or better connection.

The move comes as airport officials in Albany also seek to expand service from the airport with more frequent flights and new carriers.

What makes a loyalty program valuable?

“You’ve got to have people come back,” said Jeff Durgee, associate professor of marketing at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s Lally School of Management. “It costs five times more to get a new customer than to hold on to what you have.

“Ninety percent of our daily thinking is done on an unconscious level, driving a car, brushing teeth,” he added. “If there’s a trigger — I’ve got to take a trip — (I’ll) go to Albany, everything works fine.”

With loyalty programs, “the key thing is what the value of the program is,” said Michael McCall, a professor of marketing at Ithaca College and research fellow at Cornell University, and an expert in consumer rewards programs.

“Can you give something to the consumer that they actually care about and doesn’t cost you a lot of money?” McCall said.

At Albany, the airport pays for the points or miles that are credited to participating travelers’ accounts.

“What are airports going to offer people that they value?

“Do you want to give people preferential parking?” he added.

“Identify people who contribute to your profit margin.”

Airlines already offer such perks, such as a special check-in line for elite-level frequent fliers, and preferential boarding.

And more are starting to require a minimum annual level of spending in addition to miles flown or flight segments to qualify for elite status.

United is the latest convert. Travelers who want to qualify for gold status will have to spend at least $5,000 with the airline as well as meeting the mileage or flight segment requirement.

That’ll eliminate the bargain flier who might take just two trips a year to Asia, spending as little as $2,000, and nevertheless collect the 50,000 miles needed for gold status.

Hotels may well want to follow a similar strategy, McCall suggests. So-called “whales” might not come to your property often, “but when they do, they spend a boatload of money,” he said.

Durgee said loyalty programs also need to be clear and the perks easy to understand.

“One thing that consumers hate is confusion when there’s a proliferation of platinum and gold” awards levels, he said.

So far, the Albany airport loyalty program doesn’t have elite levels or any additional perks to offer — it pretty much has the upstate market to itself.

But as other airports introduce similar efforts, the pressure to remain competitive could lead to additional perks.

“It’s something that’s always under discussion,” Myers said., 518-454-5323 ___

Tags: loyalty