As travel loyalty programs proliferate and improve their options and benefits, an increasing number of small business travelers (SBTs) are embracing them, reported the American Small Business Travelers Alliance (ASBTA), a national alliance that provides services and functions focused specifically on the travel needs and interests of small business owners. ASBTA recently completed its 2006 Travel Loyalty Program Survey, which provides the latest insight into the preferences and patterns of SBTs in relation to a wide variety of travel loyalty programs.
“With a few key exceptions, most travel loyalty programs are still fairly new,” said Chuck Sharp, ASBTA President. “Those that have been in the industry the longest are leading the way, however, and are setting the bar for the improvement and development of all such programs. In recent months, both new and old travel loyalty programs have begun taking notice of SBTs, and now more than ever it seems SBTs are responding.”
ASBTA’s member survey revealed that 75 percent of respondents belong to some type of travel loyalty program, an increase of 10 percent over last year’s survey. More than half of the respondents (56 percent) indicated that travel loyalty programs are important to them. The most frequently used travel loyalty programs were frequent flyer programs (64 percent) and hotel clubs (54 percent), followed by rental car clubs (31 percent).
With some of the oldest and most-trusted travel loyalty programs, airlines were the natural front-runner. American Airlines’ AAdvantage program, which marked its 25th anniversary in May, pioneered the concept of the frequent flyer program and is today the largest, boasting 50 million members. The ASBTA survey reflected that popularity with 47 percent of respondents indicating they are members of the AAdvantage program, followed by Delta’s SkyMiles (37 percent), United Airlines Mileage Plus (33 percent) and Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards (23 percent). The three programs were also selected, in the same order, as the most preferred programs of their type.
There were also clear favorites among hotel clubs, with Hilton HHonors (36 percent), Marriott Rewards (35 percent) and Priority Club (30 percent) named as the top three. Results for car rental clubs were more evenly distributed, although Hertz, Avis and Budget came through as the top three programs utilized.
Perhaps the most surprising results of the survey were the factors named when selecting an airline or hotel. When selecting an airline, respondents indicated the fifth most important factor was the frequent flyer program. At 39 percent, this factor followed price, schedule, reliability and service, but was named as more important than overhead space and leg room on a plane and even in-flight amenities, among others.
“In the past year, our surveys have indicated increasing usage of travel loyalty programs among small business travelers,” said Sharp. “Simultaneously, we’ve watched the quantity and quality of travel loyalty programs increase. Our objective is to continue to encourage both trends and help make SBTs and travel loyalty programs more compatible and more aware of one another, to the benefit of both.”
NOTE: We don’t know about you but being assigned a new moniker “SBT,” is getting to be a bit much. It’s enough that most of us are already DINKS, Yuppies, Gen Xers, let alone Baby Boomers and Mileage Runners. Anyway, SBT sounds like a disease, one that no cure has been identified as of yet.