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Airlines built loyalty programs around spend thresholds rather than miles traveled in recent years. The pandemic may catapult airline and hotel loyalty programs into becoming less transactional and more experiential and creative.


Loyalty gurus discussed what travel companies need to do to solve a pain point: How can they engender loyalty when most travelers are immobile.

Speaking on a panel, “The Coming Shifts in Travel Loyalty Post-Crisis,” at the online Skift Global Forum Wednesday, Amy Weinberg, senior vice president of the World of Hyatt, said the loyalty program offers an always-on digital experience, Headspace, to address members’ needs outside the walls of a hotel.

Other panel members included  Danielle Brown, chief marketing officer of Points, who said aspirational purchases are booming on the platform, and Dan Frommer, founder of The New Consumer, who argued that loyalty programs need to get more fun and less transactional.  Skift Global Hospitality Reporter Cameron Sperance moderated the session.

Frommer of The New Consumer, a publication about the intersection of technology and how people spend their money, said loyalty programs often “are a real downer,” and need to get more fun, inclusive and community-minded instead of feeling like a class system.

During the current period, programs’ ability to be flexible becomes very important, Frommer said. He pointed to Chase, which added a Pay Yourself Back tool that includes credits for grocery purchases, for example.

For airline and hotel loyalty programs, agility is “ridiculously important,” said Brown of Points.

Personalized offers gives loyalty program members something to be excited about, Frommer said, adding tongue in cheek that for the first time in a while he measures his self-worth by metrics other than his airline loyalty tier. He pointed to Starbucks and Chipotle as two retail programs doing interesting things with personalized offers.

Weinberg of Hyatt recalled that the chain introduced instantly confirmable upgrades in 2009 coming out of the financial crisis, and expects the loyalty program to continue to evolve during and post-pandemic.

For example, Work from Hyatt has generated “really good traction,” especially in warmer climates, she said.

Frommer challenged Hyatt and others to publish more content, explaining that he has a couple of favorite Hyatt properties in Japan but hasn’t heard anything from the chain about what he’s missing out on there when he can’t travel.

All seemed to agree that leisure travelers will become much more important to travel loyalty programs with business travel on a seemingly prolonged hiatus.

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Tags: airlines, digital nomads, hyatt, loyalty, points, sgf2020, skift global forum

Photo credit: A Hyatt property in Birmingham, UK, as seen on July 10, 2013. In a loyalty panel at the Skift Global Forum September 23, 2020, participants said travel loyalty programs need to get more aspirational with much of travel shut down. Richard P. Lambert /

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