Skift Take

Many airlines have rewritten loyalty rules in recent years to make their programs more profitable and reward the most lucrative travelers. But our data show many U.S. travelers don't want to play by those rules and aren't loyal to any airline.

Many airlines have changed their loyalty programs in recent years to make them more profitable and offer attractive incentives to their most loyal customers.

But many travelers never collect points when they fly and don’t participate in airline loyalty programs, Skift learned as part of a recent survey.

Earlier this month, we asked more than 1,200 U.S. adults through Google Consumer Surveys: When you travel, do you participate in an airline loyalty program?

The results show many Americans aren’t earning points. Only 16.8 percent of respondents said they always collect points when they fly.

Some 13 percent said “I sometimes but not always collect points when I fly.” That may suggest some travelers who are loyalty program members don’t exclusively fly with one carrier. They might fly with another airline if it offers cheaper fares than the carrier they prefer for its points program.

About one-third (33 percent) of respondents said “I never collect points when I fly,” a finding that highlights a reality many airlines understand and seek to change.

The survey, Skift’s latest in our Travel Habits of Americans series, helps reiterate that many Americans are infrequent flyers who are more concerned with finding the lowest fares rather than having a relationship with an airline that doesn’t give them many benefits.

A lower percentage (14.1 percent) of respondents ages 18-44, which includes Gen Z, millennials and some Gen Xers, said “Yes, I always collect points when I fly” compared to travelers ages 45 and older, a group that includes older Gen Xers, baby boomers and retirees (19.6 percent).

That’s in-line with recent Skift reporting that found while a small segment of millennials are finding success in travel loyalty programs, many aren’t loyal to a particular program or have given up.

To be sure, airline loyalty programs can be confusing and don’t always yield the best deals for travelers. And the loyalty playbook is constantly changing – earlier this month, Alaska and American Airlines, for example, said they’re drastically reducing their frequent flyer partnership, which means travelers from one carrier will get fewer benefits when flying the other airline.

Other carriers, such as Delta Air Lines, have begun reducing perks for some frequent flyers. These are only some factors weighing on travelers’ minds when deciding whether to join an airline’s program or continue with it.

It’s worth noting that Skift didn’t ask how many airline loyalty programs travelers participate in. Respondents who said “Yes, I always collect points when I fly” could be members of multiple airline loyalty programs and switch between programs depending on where they fly. We also didn’t ask about using various credit cards associated with airline programs.

The breakdown by gender shows that “yes, I always collect points when I fly” is essentially the same for men and women (16.6 versus 16.9 percent, respectively). But a higher percentage of women versus men respondents said “no, I never collect points when I fly,” (35.6 percent versus 30.3 percent, respectively).

Women respondents

Men respondents


Important: This single-question survey — not served to Skift users — was administered to the U.S. Internet population at the beginning of July 2017 through Google Consumer Surveys, with more than 1,200 responses. The methodology is explained here

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Tags: loyalty, surveys, tha2017, travel habits

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