Merger, Art and the Art of Governing Frequent Flyer Miles
Given the news recently that the EU gave preliminary approval to the merger of Continental and United, it seems that most are still thinking that although there may be some minor challenges to the merger put forward by the U.S. government, it will ultimately go through.
Okay, while I remain happy with the independent frequent flyer programs, the decision to merge is much bigger than how I happen to feel about it. But I must say I was surprised by the initial announcement of who will manage the combined loyalty program. More specifically, I was not surprised by who was named to be in charge, but rather by the decision to bring in someone new. From all indications, the United program has operated at one of its highest levels of satisfaction in years and the changes made over the past two years have been nothing less than inviting to the members of the program–and I mention this as they roll out yet another award discount promotion. And regarding OnePass–is there any argument that this program is among the top two or three programs with the most satisfied members? So doing a major merger like this and naming a new person to head the frequent flyer program seems a little risky to me. But then, no one asked me.
A part of my time every day is spent just flitting around the various marketing and promotional efforts by programs around the world. As I do this, I have no loyalty to my own miles and points, but rather take a keen interest in what is going on in this big miles and points world of ours. I recently came across something by Emirates Skywards that shows their continued interest in imaginative promotions. The last time I was in Dubai, they were sponsoring the Skywards Dubai International Jazz Festival, which was no small feat and it won an award for best music festival from Time Out magazine.
And now from music they have moved to the arts.
Skywards has launched a competition to find the world’s next emerging artists, whose winning artwork will replace the current designs on the membership cards. The winners will receive a commission of $5,000, enjoy global exposure and recognition for their work and will be flown to Dubai, where their winning design artwork will be displayed at the Art Dubai fair in March 2011. Art Dubai is the leading contemporary art fair in the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia. Like the Jazz Festival that Skywards launched, this art competition will take place annually and is open to budding artists around the globe. The only rather odd aspect about the competition that I found is that it is not open to artists from the U.S. or Italy. All styles of art, including sculpture, photography and paintings are welcome, which promises to be an interesting selection to be represented on membership cards. (This reminds me of the interesting ethnic tail-fin artwork that British Airways launched in 1997 as a way to represent countries on BA’s route network.)
The competition is going on right now and we won’t have to wait long to hear who will come out on top, as the winners will be announced on Sept. 25. There will be three winning entries, which I assume will represent the three different tiers of membership in Skywards. Initial judging will be conducted by a panel of art industry professionals and experts who will create a shortlist of entries that will then be judged by Skywards members via a voting process on the Skywards Web site.
While I’m partial to my personalized Starwood Preferred Guest membership card (my personal messages on the back of the card are: Any suite upgrades today?; Gift or points? Points; Starwood Lurker rocks and I can see for miles …). I really like how Skywards uses the creative process of many different types of events to make the program relevant in the lives and interests of their members.
And finally, if you get a chance, read the news item in our International Inside Edition of this month’s magazine regarding a recent decision by the German Supreme Court regarding members’ rights and frequent flyer programs. There certainly is a pattern coming from legal circles that regardless of the rules of membership set by these programs, they have to be based on common sense.