60 Seconds with Brian LaBelle, Senior Vice-President, Skywards

60 Seconds with Brian LaBelle, Senior Vice-President, Skywards

InsideFlyer
At the beginning of this year, Skywards made changes to the way miles are earned. Why did you switch from the one mile per mile flown model to an earning chart based on travel zones and fare class?
Brian LaBelle
Emirates has grown considerably since first launching Skywards 10 years ago, and now serves 105 destinations, in 64 countries across all six continents. To better serve our diverse membership base across these markets, a refresh of the program was necessary to better align Skywards to the airline and position us strongly for the next 10 years and beyond. Travel zones were adopted to make the program simpler for our members, effectively aligning the structure with our long-standing and familiar reward zones. As a result, members no longer need to earn under one formula and redeem under another, making Skywards much more consistent and transparent. Differentiating by fare class recognises customers who pay higher fares, while ensuring that all customers –even those on heavily discounted tickets–still earn both status miles and reward miles whenever they fly Emirates. We increased our cabin bonuses to 75 percent and 150 percent for business and first class respectively, to better recognise and reward our loyal members in these cabins.

IF
How have members responded to the changes?
LaBelle
The changes have affected members in different ways, but many have welcomed the increased choice in how they earn and redeem their miles. For instance, we adopted a more customer-friendly Silver and Gold qualification structure, allowing tier miles to be recognised over any 13-month period instead of a fixed calendar year. We increased our cabin bonuses and also introduced our unique Miles Accelerator, which offers flight bonuses throughout the year–no matter what fare the customer paid or where they purchased their ticket. Taking into context the overall changes, the reception from our most engaged and loyal members has been very positive.

IF
Has Emirates considered joining one of the global alliances? If not, why not?
LaBelle
This is not currently on our priority list.

IF
Elite members of Skywards do not receive complimentary upgrades that are offered by some other loyalty programs. Why isn’t this benefit offered to elite members?
LaBelle
We offer members in all tiers the opportunity to use their miles for a firm upgrade to any cabin, from any fare–no matter the fare or booking class. Gold and Silver members can upgrade at check-in or on-board the aircraft itself. Member uptake and feedback indicates that this is one of their most preferred rewards. By recognising and rewarding our members in this way, they have full control of when they use their miles and the cabin they travel in rather than being subject to an uncertain travel opportunity that inevitably accompanies space available complimentary upgrades. Furthermore, all members can upgrade themselves, or any friend or family member they wish.

IF
It’s been a few years since Emirates launched the High Street. How has the online shop changed since the launch and how have members responded to it?
LaBelle
The Emirates High Street has grown substantially since its launch three years ago and has become a strong component of the Skywards reward offering. Based on member feedback and purchase patterns, we have created customised offerings for certain markets such as Australia and New Zealand where we have successfully implemented a range of tailored vouchers which are delivered locally and offer exceptional value. We plan to expand on this customised offering soon by implementing unique locally shipped products for other markets such as India and the United States.

IF
What are some of the most popular award redemptions?
LaBelle
Business class upgrade rewards are currently our most popular redemption with the attractiveness of Emirates premium class offerings key to this demand. Flight rewards in economy and business class sit closely behind, with our new Saver and Flex pricing structure offering our members more flexibility than ever. As mentioned, our members have also responded positively to the Emirates High Street as an alternative redemption channel offering them the ability to also redeem a mix of cash and miles to reach their reward.

IF
Do you have any information about upcoming partnerships you can share?
LaBelle
We are currently working on partnerships in airline, financial and leisure categories in key markets around the globe to be launched in 2011.

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