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Travel loyalty programs are on a downhill slide, new survey finds

January 25, 2013|By Mary Forgione | Los Angeles Times Daily Travel & Deal blogger
  • George Clooney in "Up in the Air" accrues 10 million frequent flier miles.
George Clooney in "Up in the Air" accrues 10 million frequent… (Paramount Pictures )

There's a notable scene in the 2009 film "Up in the Air" when George Clooney's character Ryan Bingham becomes obsessed with amassing 10 million frequent-flier miles. When Bingham makes his milestone flight, he receives a Champagne party and congratulations from the airline's chief pilot. 

Real-life passengers have racked up more than 10 million miles on United and American Airlines, but all that might be changing.

A new study finds consumer loyalty to particular airlines and hotels is plunging and that companies need to up their game if they want to keep members interested. Just 8% of consumers said they were always loyal to the same hotel brand, and 14% said they were always loyal to the same airline.

Loyalty programs that promise miles and points to be exchanged for free flights or free hotel stays rank low when consumers make decisions about what airline to fly and what hotel to stay in. Value for the money far outweighs other factors.

But that doesn't mean travelers don't like the programs. More than half expressed satisfaction with their hotel or airline program. So what's the disconnect?

Survey taker Deloitte suggests that consumers don't seem to be as obsessed with premium upgrades as they once were. The survey found domestic travelers said they flew in economy 65% of the time for business and 79% of the time for vacation travel.

"...[T]ravel brands should focus on enhancing the customer experience, making rewards personally meaningful, encouraging loyalty with unexpected rewards if they want to boost consumer engagement, and ultimately building long-term customer relationships," Adam Weissenberg, vice chairman of Deloitte LLP said in a statement. 

The survey also found that social media and smartphones haven't affected the way people book travel. Sixty-three percent said they never want to interact with a travel brand on social media and 44% said they never visited social media and review sites. Most respondents said they made reservations at hotel websites (61%) and airline websites (59%) rather than mobile apps or other online travel sites.

Deloitte funded the survey of 4,000 hotel and airline customers that was taken in October.
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