#128: American Airlines & AAdvantage Loyalty Insights (Short Summary Show)

Founded in 1981, the AAdvantage program is one of the world’s first and biggest loyalty programs.

In early 2020, I interviewed Bridget Blaise-Shamai, then President of the AAdvantage program, and discovered the original strategic idea behind the program, some of it’s most fascinating insights and how American Airlines was adapting to perhaps the most challenging time in its history.

This short summary show captures just some of what I learnt from this extra-ordinary success story, so listen to learn how a laser focus on customers can create extra-ordinary loyalty, even in this most competitive sector.

Show Notes:

1) AAdvantage Program

2) Bridget Blaise- Shamai

3) Let’s Talk Loyalty with American Airlines Advantage Programme 

Audio Transcript

Speaker 0 (0s):

Welcome to “Let’s Talk Loyalty”, an industry podcast for loyalty marketing professionals. I’m your host, Paula Thomas and if you work in loyalty marketing, join me every week to learn the latest ideas from loyalty specialists around the world.

This show is sponsored by Comarch a global provider of innovative software products and business services.

Comarch’s platform is used by leading brands across all industries to drive their customer loyalty powered by AI and machine learning. Comarch technologies allow you to build, run and manage personalized loyalty programs and product offers with ease.

For more information, please visit comarch.com

Today’s episode of “Let’s Talk a Little Loyalty” is a summary of an interview with the head of one of the very first loyalty programs in the world and now also one of the largest at the time of recording in April, 2020, Bridget Blaise-Shamai was the Vice-President of Customer Insights and Loyalty and President of the AA Advantage program responsible for all aspects of loyalty, including recognition and rewards or manage partnerships, customer service, and customer relationship management initiatives.

In total, Bridget spent more than 25 years with American Airlines with senior roles and finance revenue management, alliances, sales, and loyalty.

When we started by discussing Bridget’s favourites statistics, she mentioned several KPIs that I expected, including how many people are joining the advantage program.

And of course the breadth and depth of how they engage with it. But in fact, she also mentioned one KPI they measure, which I hadn’t heard before as a program priority, but since then I really realized is incredibly important.

The speed by which they get their members engaged. This was a key insight from the huge amount of data that American airlines collects from its members. The window of opportunity they noticed as a limited period of time after new members join, give you some important information about themselves. And then of course have an expectation that you’ll use it in a way that is both relevant and respectful to them. This focus on the speed of first engagement was a really interesting insight and I’ve used it a huge amount of conversations ever since. Bridget then talked to me about her background at American, which spans many internal departments and explains that culturally at the airline, it’s very common from vicious executives to move around internally, to make sure they get to learn the business. This gave her experience initially in finance, then in revenue management and distribution, and she then took on a commercial role supporting the launch of the one world airline Alliance, the exposure she got to other global airlines with put powerful loyalty programs, gave Bridget her love for the loyalty industry, the combination of powerful data and partnerships as well as responsibility for such a significant P and L for the airline has kept Bridgid super excited about both the airline industry and the loyalty industry. And at the time of recording, she had been leading the AA advantage program for three years. She emphasized how important it is to treat customer relationships as a two-way street, ensuring a fair and balanced value proposition for customers. We talked about the original idea and why American airlines first identified the need for a loyalty program, which had started as one of the first in the world in 1981, making it now 40 years old at the time most reservations were coming in via travel agencies, who of course then gathered all of the insights on customers, which the airline actually needed. The second reason for the program was that flights can often be seen as quite a commoditized product. And the idea was to create a point of distinction and a unique selling point for people to choose to fly with American instead of other carriers. Finally, they wanted to create a personality for the American airlines brand, which can sometimes feel otherwise like quite a transactional relationship with customers. I then asked Bridget about key trends in the industry with the profile of frequent flyers who typically skew as wealthier, more, highly educated and spending more on discretionary items. The first trend to note is heightened consumer expectations that will continue to grow even more important with an ever increasing need to be more frictionless and more personalized with customers. Bridget shared the wants. She believes they’re already doing some great work to personalize their program. It is an ongoing journey that in fact will never end with her team of over 700 professionals across customer service, data analytics, and operations. She said that she insists that they each approach this business opportunity with both humility and curiosity, constantly asking what more can they do? And this commitment ensures the program in genders, ever stronger loyalty with customers. Finally, with the pandemic, having just grounded airlines around the world, Bridget shared the approach being taken by the 130,000 employees of American airlines globally. And the loyalty initiatives already put in place to allow members routine their miles for ground based rewards, as well as maintaining tier status for premium members. Speaker 0 (6m 23s): I really loved this conversation with Bridget blades Shammai so if you’d like to hear the full interview it’s episode 32 of let’s talk loyalty <inaudible> This show is sponsored by the wise market here. The world’s most popular source of loyalty, marketing news insights and research. The Ys marketeer also offers loyalty marketing training through its loyalty academy, which has already certified over 170 executives in 20 countries as certified loyalty and marketing professionals. For more information, check out the wise market tier.com and loyalty academy. Thanks so much for listening to this episode of let’s talk loyalty. If you’d like me to send you the latest show each week, simply sign up for the show newsletter on let’s talk loyalty.com and I’ll send you the latest episode to your inbox every Thursday, or just head to your favorite podcast platform. Find let’s talk loyalty and subscribe. Of course I’d love your feedback and reviews. And thanks again for supporting the show.