JetBlue is making individual phone calls to Delta SkyMiles members that are looking for an escape after the Atlanta-based airline announced changes to how elite status and lounge access would work. This is a best practice.
Airlines want to poach the best customers of their competitors. Someone that spends tens of thousands of dollars on airline tickets is a pretty good customer, and someone that spends even more on an airline’s co-brand credit card is too.
The problem is that the customer is generally well-treated by their current airline because of their elite status. They don’t want to start over from scratch, paying bag fees, sitting in the back of the bus, and not getting extra help during flight delays and cancellations.
So airlines are frequently willing to offer status matches of some kind to attract these customers. The idea is to make it easy to move their business by lowering switching costs. In general,
- The airline fronts some status, usually equal to the status they already have with their existing airline.
- They may have hoops to jump through to keep the status. They want the new customer to actually engage with the airline offering the match. And they don’t want to extend a year’s status, or longer, to someone just for a single trip or as the result of status match fraud.
There’s a lot of fraud in the space, and also a lot of people looking for status that they aren’t really going to use the way it’s intended (saying ‘hey I’ll switch to your airline if you just give me status’ but not actually giving them any direct business).
- someone mocks up an account showing current status that they don’t really have
- sends it to a foreign partner of their favorite airline to get their status
- and then uses that partner’s status for lounge access when flying within the U.S.
There are basically 3 principles airlines should follow in fighting fraud:
- Get better at detecting fraud up front. How many people with purported Delta SkyMiles status are really moving their long haul business to Turkish Airlines? And how good are the photoshopped uploads, really? Target your matches at customers you’re likely to want and get value from, for instance looking at their actual travel history and the quality of their submissions. Disqualify anything that comes in from China.
- Crack down on selling status. A lot of fraud is generated by a small number of sources that scale their efforts.
- Then don’t worry too much about it if the value of your status match program is great enough. The optimal level of fraud is not zero and you don’t want to make the program so cumbersome that the fraud rules make it difficult for legitimate customers to jump through required hoops.
A lot of programs create too many hoops. They take too long to verify status and process the match. Customers who ask for a match have their new airline focal. They’re probably ready to make bookings right away, which is what prompted their request for the match in the first place. Don’t let too much time pass.
And don’t make the program too confusing. One law professor I know did an American Airlines Instant Status Pass. He literally reads fine print for a living and teaches future lawyers how to read fine print. But he misunderstood what counted as the date of a transaction for keeping the status he’d received. He did the activities American wanted, but one transaction fell outside of the eligible period even though there was a plausible reading of American’s terms that it did not.
Just do a simple match. If you must create hoops to jump through, make it easy to track progress. And provide regular updates on that progress. I’ve seen complaints that while United lets you track your progress, the updates in their system don’t always follow what the customer shows as completed.
Communication is key to help the customer understand the value of their new status.
- When United Airlines and Continental blew the integration of their passenger service systems, American Airlines was there with a status match for United 1Ks, giving them Executive Platinum status – something they hadn’t traditionally done before.
American didn’t just give out the status. They followed up with a couple of Admirals Club passes. And they followed up with inflight wifi passes, because United didn’t yet offer wifi (some would say they still don’t). This underscored the unique selling proposition of making the switch to American.
- In 2006 and 2007 Northwest Airlines offered ‘Worldperks University,’ a few hundred points for taking multiple choice quizzes about the program, encouraging members to engage and understand the benefits.
I talked about this on a panel at an industry conference, and the then-head of Delta SkyMiles (which inherited Worldperks) said it’s something she would never do. The President of AAdvantage at the time was in the audience, and several weeks later – as American Airlines and US Airways combined their loyalty programs – American offered AAdvantage University, multiple choice questions where customers earned miles for getting to know the program.
- It’s important to engage members in understanding their benefits, so they can see how their membership and active engagement will benefit them. There’s no better time to do this than when a valuable customer raises their hand and says they want to do more business with you.
With Delta chasing many of their elites away with changes to the SkyMiles program, Alaska and JetBlue aggressively made status match offers to SkyMiles elites – including matching status through all of next year for those that had earned status with Delta this year, applied for the match, and who also took the new airline’s co-brand credit card.
JetBlue is apparently taking it a step further in communication. JetBlue’s program has choice benefits which was being extended to matched Delta elites, including business class (Mint) upgrades. And they are calling customers individually that have received status matches.
Wow, Delta status match to JetBlue came with a phone call from a Mosaic agent welcoming me to the status and asking if I had any questions. B6 is serious about poaching customers!
— Amol (@PointsToPointB) October 5, 2023
In fact, here’s a transcript of a voicemail they left:
— Richard Kerr (@KerrPoints) October 5, 2023
This not only provides information to the customer, it makes them feel welcome and valued. And it does this at a time the customer has at least considered shifting their loyalty, precisely because Delta made them feel unwelcome and unvalued.
A status match campaign that only offers a match, and processes the match is… ok. But it’s also a wasted opportunity. The match needs to be as fast and seamless as possible, and then needs to follow up with the customer to help them understand and use their benefits and see why their choice to shift their business is a good one for them.