Why I fly United Airlines ~ Brand Mix

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Why I fly United Airlines

There's really just one reason: I have Premier status on United and I don't have status on any other airline.

That means, for example, that when I fly United I get to board early, grab some overhead cabin space and sit in one of the extra-leg-room seats (no contortion required). Whereas, when I fly any of the other major airlines, I'm waiting around for seating zone 4 or higher, at the back of the bus sitting close to the toilet seat.

But does this make me a loyal United customer? I guess it depends on your definition but "no" if that definition includes any emotional attachment.

Tom Peters thinks that the word "loyalty" has been kidnapped. In a post: "A bribe is not a relationship" he says: "Hey, there's nothing wrong with multiple purchases, but return visits don't necessarily correlate with true, meaningful loyalty. This kind of tit-for-tat transactional loyalty can be fleeting. Purchase intent one week doesn't automatically lead to purchase intent the next week, if a competitor offers a better sale price or promotion. This is the kind of loyalty that can evaporate quickly when another company offers better incentives."

From this perspective, United's frequent flyer program is not so much of a loyalty program as it is a switching cost management program that has succeeded (very well) in raising my cost to use other airlines (except those that are in the Star Alliance).

Contrast my relationship with United to the relationship one of my colleagues has with American Airlines. I traveled with her to LA last week and she invited me in to the Admiral's Club where she knew all of the people behind the desk and was telling me the stories about how so-and-so used to work in a ticket office in the city (remember those?) and how so-and-so had helped her out when she was stuck somewhere and on and on and on!

Now that seems to be the kind of loyalty Tom is talking about.


Anonymous said...

I too am a "loyal" United flyer. Yes, i am bribed. But the bribes are damn good (i believe UA wins best FF program by the FF business association groups (who are those people anyway?). Plus, the bribes are really well branded. It's much more fun to be called 1k or Global Services than Platinum or Gold (snore).
I am Global Services which gives me many upgrades to first class and preferential treatment that frankly astounds me. Cutting in line, instant ugrade clearence, first choice in meals and "thank yous". It makes me feel special, like United knows who I am, eventhough my status was assigned by a database.
Aside from the bribed loyalty, I actually do have warm feelings toward UA. I have flown them for years, at times I have been very angry with them, I hate the way they have been managed. But oddly, the horrible tan and grey cabin feels a bit like home (gosh, how sad a comment)
I do however have had way more positive experiences with UA employees than bad ones. Even when they were being screwed out of their pensions. I too have dear friends that I have come to know via my travels. All the ladies at JFK and LGA and in Rio.
There are also some signs that UA has done some amazing innovative things albeit only from time to time as if someone in Chicago is thinking about the brand experience. The P.S. service is a joy to fly. I actually look forward to that flight. The new pillow cases are real cotton and not fire resistant handy wipes any more. And a cotton duvet and a kick ass IFE system. Even the food is edible. They are also the only airline in the world with channel 9 (listening to the pilot for flying geeks) The new Westin lounge at the Red carpet club is nice. The international first class lounges are on par with most European and Asian carriers. Not to forget the new, true lie-flat seats in business! All of which are many miles ahead of any other US carrier. So someone is paying some attention to the brand experience. No, it won't be Singapore, but it will be better than American and Delta in the end. All that, plus my status does make me happy to fly UA and is helping define it's less than definable brand.

Martin Bishop said...

Thanks for that comment. It shows that the issue is not as black and white as I implied in my post. And I agree with you about the P.S. service. That is indeed a joy to fly.

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