Etihad Guest program is the newest frequent flyer program in the world and while some of its features are common to other frequent flyer programs, it also includes more than a few surprises. First, the name. Who would have thought that the word “Guest” would be used to describe an airline frequent flyer program? Apparently this award-winning airline seeks to make travel pleasant for us after all.
The key features that Guest offer are, flexible travel with any time and any flight availability, choice of payment options (purely miles or a cash contribution), immediate redemption potential as of the first mile accrued, range of rewards with a network of non-flight partners to choose from, added value with miles that are worth more, and earning miles on reward flights through cash contributions.
Members can enroll online to get an instant member number and play with what InsideFlyer considers the most unique benefit we’ve ever seen. We call it “the Slider” and it allows all members to vary the value of their miles upon redeeming any award. We visited Etihad during the launch of this program and chatted with Peter Baumgartner, Head of Marketing, about this new wonder from the Middle East:
Question: Now that you’ve launched Guest, what has been the single thing you’ve been most surprised with?
Peter: The exceptionally positive response from Guests and media, which is demonstrated by 30,000 enrolments within the first month; Guests have signed up from all over the world, even from places where we don’t yet fly to — obviously in great anticipation that our fast growth will soon bring us to their doors.
Question: As one of the very rare loyalty programs in the world to launch with a complete set of both earning and redeeming partners, can you tell us just how long it took to complete that task?
Peter: Six months of detailed planning and design phase (integrated CRM recognition strategy along the entire travel experience) and another six months of implementation (including new Web site, booking engine, Reward Shop, FFP system, marketing automation, Data Warehouse, SFA, E-Ticketing etc.). These implementation achievements in record time would not have been possible without an initial thorough planning phase which turned out to be an effective strategic approach to the project.
Question: Since all your competition has set levels of award redemption, how difficult was it to conceive a program in which it seems that every single mile in a members account has some value?
Peter: There is a sound business plan behind the Etihad Guest programme, which does not follow traditional FFP planning since the mechanics are different. There is a commercial interest in operating a Web Shop, which creates an opportunity for us as an airline and our partners while securing the most attractive miles offering and values to our Guests into the future. Furthermore, our unique features like the Slider Tool and 1MileRedemption will increase the activity ratio within the member base and guarantee an immediate “Golden Moment” — both researched key triggers for increased loyalty towards a brand.
Question: Can you describe the most difficult part of readying a program like this for launch?
Peter: The complexity of managing the design and implementation plans of five different external project partners in a most complex environment and securing that the overall strategic Guest Experience design is not compromised during the project due to time constraints.