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The Future of Travel Loyalty: How To Get Your Customer To Stick Around When Reward Point Balances Hit Zero

woman in tropics
Free flights and hotel rooms are table stakes. Today's loyalty program members want to be catered to. [®Andrey Pavlov/Stocksy United]

Travelers are acting on their pent-up wanderlust. But are points and miles enough to keep them loyal for the long-term?

When travelers stowed away their suitcases in 2020, travel companies scrambled to extend loyalty statuses to keep their customers happy. With lockdown restrictions lifted in 2021 and travel returning in a big way, loyalty members are expected to cash in their extended rewards to avoid losing them. But what happens to the future of travel loyalty when customers exhaust their balances and start from scratch? 

Members may consider the competition if they offer more appealing benefits. Companies that rely exclusively on an earn-and-burn model are asking for trouble if their loyalty programs don’t incorporate offers and experiences that make members feel special. How can travel companies evolve from transactional programs to a loyalty strategy that brings them closer to their customer? 

To differentiate their loyalty programs, travel and hospitality companies need to leverage customer data to deliver experiences that are memorable, valuable, and customized to a member’s preferences. Here’s how you can win at loyalty. 

Think beyond flights, upgrades, and hotel stays

When the industry launched loyalty programs decades ago, they were a hit because consumers loved getting freebies like flight upgrades or hotel stays. But today, that’s table stakes. Consumers want more from their loyalty programs. In addition to traditional rewards, they want convenience and personalized perks. In fact, 73% of travelers say they expect companies to understand their travel needs and behaviors. After all, benefits like getting a voucher for a cocktail at your favorite hotel bar or a coupon for services at a preferred spa are things that make travel more enjoyable. 

Travel and hospitality companies already have decades worth of customer data to create meaningful experiences. But they need to act on it.

When travel companies do this, they establish an emotional connection that makes the experience more meaningful. In turn, the next time a traveler books a trip, they remember the little touches and are more inclined to come back. That’s how you deliver on your loyalty program’s value proposition.  

To do this, travel companies must address the gaps in data collection. There is no shortage of data-crunching horsepower in the world, but everyone is forced to work from the same imperfect data sets. Travel companies need solutions that support the intelligent use of their customer data sets to deliver a modernized loyalty program. Here’s how.

Connect your data sources

Connect your loyalty program with data from across your organization. This includes your customer relationship management (CRM) platform, booking and reservations systems, customer service, and marketing automation systems. These systems share data to give you a complete view of every traveler. Employees are able to better understand each traveler and their preferences, anticipate their needs, and exceed their expectations.

Reimagine your loyalty strategy

Today’s customers are sophisticated, and they expect more from you than ever. Your loyalty program will deliver more value when you truly put customers first. n

Find, and make use of, important insights

Capture real-time insights about your members, program and promotion performance. Use these analytics to understand whether a promotion is driving revenue and adjust accordingly. You can also leverage artificial intelligence (AI) to be more proactive in your approach. For example, you can predict when members are at risk of disengaging with your program, and activate new benefits or promotions to reignite their interest.

Act on customer feedback

Send surveys to customers with your CRM to gather direct feedback. With that information, you can inform customer service and marketing campaigns, and tweak your loyalty program’s offerings to make it even stronger.   

Upgrade your programs based on data

Modify your loyalty program quickly as business conditions or preferences change based on your data. For example, find out which drives more business: a double points promotion or an upcoming event in a particular city.

Use loyalty data to make every moment special for travelers

Take a page from the playbook of leading travel and hospitality brands that have built loyal followings by exceeding expectations before, during, and after travel. The future of travel loyalty programs is all about offering unexpected, delightful, and personalized services. For example: 

Tailor experiences from start to finish

Act on traveler preferences based on your data. For example, automate room assignment instructions, such as ensuring a high-value room on a top floor away from the elevator and ice machine when available. Send a text message during their stay to ask if they’d like a car service to the concert they’re attending. Share personalized offers after a trip based on their behaviors. Did they attend a Broadway show? Offer a members-only party for another show the next time they’re in town. When you deliver experiences like these, members feel special, like you know them, and are likely to keep your brand top-of-mind the next time they book.

Offer exclusive service channels for top-tier members

Give your most loyal members access to an exclusive concierge phone number or a dedicated app for instant service. If a traveler reaches out online, give top-tier members direct agent access to bypass chatbots. Empower your service agents with information about your loyalty members so they can demonstrate that they really understand and care about the customer’s needs.

Partner with out-of-category brands to build loyalty with lower-tier members

To keep members engaged well after the trip, partner with out-of-category brands that allow members to collect rewards for your program. For example, top airlines partner with car-sharing companies like Lyft so members can collect rewards on everyday rides, and some hotel loyalty members can spend rewards on Amazon. This allows you to enhance a trip in multiple ways and can provide more opportunities to boost your low- to mid-tier members into higher tiers.

Are you ready for the future of travel loyalty programs?

Will your brand be the one travelers choose now that they’re acting on their pent-up wanderlust? To continue winning the hearts and wallets of travelers, expand your loyalty program’s offerings and provide your members with the exclusive, personalized experiences that make travel special. 

Learn about what’s next in loyalty with Salesforce

Loyalty programs deliver more value to members when you truly put them first.

jacqueline nunley headshot
Jacqueline Nunley Industry Advisor, Sr. Manager, Travel and Hospitality

With over 20 years of experience in hotel distribution technologies and strategy, Jacqueline Nunley is a recognized thought leader in the Travel and Hospitality space, focused on helping build more meaningful connections between brands and their customers. She has worked as a key advisor to executives and delivered many of the industry solutions used by the top global hospitality companies today.

More by Jacqueline

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