What makes you ‘brand’ loyal? (2)

In my last post I discussed staying loyal to brand simple because you like it.  You can’t really argue with that, as long as you are acknowledging the potential for missing out on something better.  With some things, you probably say “That’s a risk I’ll take”.

What about staying brand loyal due to benefits?

There’s two aspects to this that I can think of.  Let’s deal with the easiest first – Rewards.

Rewards
I’ve got to say, I’m a sucker for reward deals.   In my early days of flying for business I enrolled (merely for the fun of it) in the TWA frequent flyer program.   For those not of my age, Trans World Airlines was a very well known american airline that unfortunately didn’t survive airline deregulation in the 80’s and asset stripping by it’s owners until it went bust in 1992.  Sad really, it is most likely my favourite airline of all time.

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Fond memories of my early career flying transatlantic on TWA Lockheed L-1011’s

These were the days were, for a couple of transatlantic flights, you could make “Gold member” and get free upgrades to business class.  I remember the first time when I walked up to check-in with my ‘coach’ ticket and she smiled politely and said “you’ve been upgraded to business”!   Wow, my jet-setting days had been begun.

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Airline loyalty pays if you fly enough with the same airline…

Over the years we have switched airlines many times, and for a long time I was making regular trips to Singapore with KLM/Air France later as part of the SkyTeam group.   If you do a lot of flying on business or pleasure, it really does pay to stay with one airline, or at least one of the big partners like Sky Team or Star Alliance.  This works for hotels too, but you have to pick a chain that a) has a hotel in the places you tend to visit and b) you have to stay in hotels a lot to benefit.

This also works to some degree for cruising – certainly P&O and Royal Caribbean have their loyalty schemes, with upgrades and discounts on offer (and special parties and seats at the Captain’s table if that floats your boat – sorry for the pun).    But from what I’ve seen, you have to have cruised many times before you see any serious benefit, and let’s face it, if you can afford that many cruises the rewards probably mean little financially.  Having said that even our base membership with RCI got us a 5% discount our the next cruise.

Another way of obtaining loyalty benefits is book regularly from one website.  I was recently told about hotel.com, who offer one room free every ten stays.   Apparently you can book one night in any hotel for your reward, so for instance you can have 10 x £50 stays and then pick a night in a £1,000 / night room – I can’t say I’ve tried this yet – my first booking with hotel.com went atrociously wrong and I wouldn’t trust them to book again anytime soon, so don’t take the link above as a personal recommendation.  In fairness to them, I have a friend that travels much more than I ever will, and it works for her and she recommends them.

Having said all that, rewards cost the companies money and it’s no surprise that the value of rewards has diminished over the last few years.  You have to fly more often and further before you can attain and retain your award flights.

Building on the old airmiles brand, it is possible to join up many of the reward brands by playing the credit card and reward card game.  For instance, my British Airways American Express credit card gives me Avios points, (the latest name for Air Miles) as well as earning me free companion tickets based on my expenditure. We’ve already flown to Mexico for a third of the price of normal tickets (you still end up paying taxes and airport fees).   If we want we can convert our Tesco clubcard points to Avios, and I’ve also joined the FlyBe frequent flyer programme and these too earn Avios points.

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And where they don’t take Amex, I have my IHG mastercard which is slowly earning points towards my next hotel stay in one of the IHG chain of hotels – for more info click here.

IMPORTANT NOTICE!

I can’t stress strongly enough that I AM NOT recommending you go out and get a credit card, especially if you don’t already have one.   Because to make these cards work for you, you HAVE TO PAY OFF THE FULL BALANCE EVERY MONTH AND TAKE THE BALANCE BACK TO ZERO!!!

Many of these reward credit cards have ridiculous interest rates of 25, 30, and even over 40% APR, and you DO NOT want to be paying interest at these rates, otherwise all of those benefits are lost in the interest you have paid i.e. cheaper to buy your reward ticket from the airline at full price.

Ok – I think you have the picture.  Shop around for the best reward deals if you want to explore this option.

QoS

Ok, the other reward deal you might latch on to is Quality Of Service.  This is not so black and white, and comes from the informal relationships you form with your travel partners.

For instance, I have used a well known local travel agent for most of our holiday bookings, and we get exceptional service from their staff, and have built up some quality and special relationships over time.  We have also managed to wangle some in store extra discounts due to our repeat business.  Putting aside the bonus discounts, this level of service and the reassurance that they have your best interests  at heart is a benefit not to be easily dismissed.  At one one point, I was putting tens of thousands of business their way.  However, there comes a point where there is an imbalance between the service provided and the amount you are willing to pay over and above the average holiday price.   On the last two occasions we have tried to book a cruise for example, they could only offer the list prices given to them by the cruise operator, and there were many other places around offering much better prices.  That’s a shame, because I feel we are letting the staff down after many years of good service – but you have to be competitive don’t you?

Similarly, loyalty is a two way thing.  After many years cruising with P & O we decided to switch to Royal Caribbean to experience a different style of cruising.  And we liked it.

that is, until this year when we have been left feeling a bit cheated over one of their offers which we did not manage to obtain through what I class as deliberate misinformation by the intermediate parties concerned.  Now, although while I hasten to add (prior to the law suits arriving through the letterbox) Royal Caribbean wasn’t directly involved in this alleged misinformation, I think a more lenient view may have been taken when considering our ‘complaint’, being regular customer who have transferred their loyalty from another successful brand.   However, my comments fell on deaf ears, which is fair enough. We won’t be sailing with them again.  I think that’s called voting with your feet.

So, in summary, brand loyalty can yield some serious benefits, both financial and in terms of the level of service you obtain from your travel partners – but as with all things you must compare regularly and really evaluate what you are getting out of a relationship to ensure you actually DO receive the benefits you desire.

What rewards and benefits do you use?   Can you share any hot tips with us?

To be continued…

 

 

 

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