Are Travel Loyalty Programs Effective? 4 Ways to Rethink Loyalty

In our new survey, we asked thousands of people what makes them return to certain providers. Here's how travel players can win more loyalty.

When consumers book travel, they might think about utilizing a loyalty program. But they’re just as likely to not. Often, travel consumers end up searching for the best deal they can find, without thinking of one airline or OTA (online travel agency) over another.

That’s a big challenge for the travel industry. With so many options and so many ways to book travel, it’s hard to build a sustainable loyalty program.

In Criteo’s new survey, “Why We Book”, conducted from May-June 2019, we asked over 12,500 consumers across 13 countries what makes them return to certain providers. We looked at the opinions of frequent travelers that had traveled abroad for leisure in the past six months, and collected their opinions on loyalty programs and their experiences in booking their holidays.

After analyzing the results, we arrived at four recommendations for travel players:

1. Make the travel booking experience easy.

When booking directly with an airline, a hotel or a train company, the two most important factors our respondents cited were user-friendliness and force of habit:

  • Ease-of-use (it is “easier”) was the #1 reason why people chose to book directly with an airline (44%) or hotel (38%).
  • Familiarity with the process (“I am used to booking this way”) was a top reason why people opt to book train travel (36%) and through OTAs (34%) on their websites.

This tells us that providing a great customer experience, which includes factors like helpful customer service, an easy-to-navigate website, and a user-friendly booking path, can compel people to return to your website the next time they’re making travel plans.

2. Don’t get hung up on traditional loyalty programs.

Delivering a great user experience and creating a buying habit among frequent travelers are much more influential when it comes to driving loyalty than traditional loyalty programs. While over one-third (35%) of respondents said being a member of a loyalty program is still a factor for booking with a specific airline, our respondents also said that the loyalty program factor becomes significantly less important when it comes to Hotels (26%), OTAs (17%), or Trains (14%).

This just goes to show that real loyalty belongs to those who can make travelers’ lives easier. Focus on making the booking process a breeze, throw in some incentives that make it even better (free flights and nights still work, but experiment with other ways people can be rewarded), and you’ll win more return visits. 

3. Reach out to your travelers (but not too much).

Every touchpoint with your brand matters. That means being mindful of just how often you reach out, and your messaging at every turn:

  • 27% of our respondents say they often forget they signed up to a loyalty program.
  • At the same time, 28% said they sometimes opt out of loyalty programs because they receive too many emails.

From email to social, on the phone or with a chatbot, be sure you’re communicating at the right cadence on the right channel with the right message. The last thing you want is for someone to unsubscribe based on one-too-many emails or a deal that’s irrelevant to them. Which brings us to:

4. Deliver relevant ads to every potential traveler.

Today, travel loyalty isn’t about programs, it’s about relevance. Also known as the new personalization, relevance connects content to context (like the time of day or the weather, or where a person is in their customer journey).

Our “Why We Buy” customer loyalty survey* shows that people are open to receiving ads, as long as they’re relevant. Consumers on both sides of the pond dislike when online ads:

  • are too prevalent on the webpage (57% in the US and 53% in the UK)
  • show products they’re not interested in (46% in the US, 51% in the UK)
  • show products they’ve already purchased (24% in the US, 30% in the UK)

But many people like online ads that help them:

  • discover new products (48% in the US and 42% in the UK)
  • remind them of products they’re interested in (37% in the US and 38% in the UK)

US attitudes toward online advertising

UK attitudes toward online advertising

When you can deliver compelling, hyper-relevant ads that resonate at the right moments in the travel booking journey, you create a better customer experience. And that’s what keeps people coming back.

Drive travel loyalty across the full-funnel journey.

Criteo can help you drive awareness with new audiences, drive engagement with travel properties on web and mobile – specifically targeting those who belong to a loyalty program — and drive conversions as people book by being reminded of loyalty deals.

Get Started with the Criteo Ad Platform

*Source: Criteo “Why We Buy” Survey, US, February 2019, n=1003​ and Criteo “Why We Buy” Survey, UK, March 2019, n=1020.

Michelle Pruett

As Global Head of Content at Criteo, Michelle leads a high-performing, multi-disciplinary team of marketers packaging insights, copy, design, and video into integrated campaigns. Her own writing has been featured in Entrepreneur, Business Insider, AdWeek, eMarketer, and more. Before joining the ...

to our newsletter

Fresh sales trends and consumer insights to help
you plan and win.