I enjoyed a 21 year career with United and my last, of many positions at United, was Manager of Merchandising and Promotion which included all the frequent flyer activities, including the launch of MileagePlus.
Here’s some additional information regarding United: Their first program was the “100,000 Mile Club” plaque on the wall recognition program. That was followed by the very popular Executive Air Travel Program (EATP) directed by my predecessor, Frank Kent, which lured even more frequent flyers…but no flight awards during the regulated period of the industry.
It was the deregulation of the US airline industry that permitted granting awards of greater than $50 in value. As stated on the foregoing comments, AA was the first to launch a “free flight” award program with AAdvantage.
Our understanding was AA felt they would have a several month lead time on the industry. I was thinking 2 -3 weeks for us to launch. Our then VP Sales, John Blackman said, “I think you have 7 – 10 days max.” Whew. We put MileagePlus together, announced it in 48 hours and launched in 10 days….automatically enrolling all EATP and Red Carpet Club members. Lots more involved but that’s the short version.
Several years later I was Staff VP of Marketing Programs at Continental. Working closely with our counterparts at Eastern Airlines which had been acquired by Frank Lorenzo. We jointly developed and launched OnePass. Mike Ribero was my counterpart at Eastern and a terrific guy. OnePass was the first FFP to offer a two tier award system for “anytime” as well as lower “cost” capacity controlled award seats. With OnePass we were also the first to launch FFP linked credit cards….with Marine Midland Bank Gold MasterCards. The industry quickly followed those two features.
Air New Zealand’s frequent flyer program launched in six weeks because they’d heard Qantas was going to spin up a program.
Now changes to individual benefits at many airlines can take months or years of focus groups, consensus-building, and layers of approval. Would any airline be able to launch an entire program in days? What does it say that this has changed so markedly?