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Frequent Travel Programs - US - August 2013

“Travel providers are challenged to not only convince more travelers to join their loyalty programs, but also to engage with the program once they enroll. Providers can make travelers more enthusiastic about participation if, in addition to helping them save money in general, they offer flexible ways in which to do so. They should consider ways to offer rewards that extend outside their realm of travel and extend into the retail space, and also allow travelers the opportunity to choose which of a variety of rewards has the most value to them.”

 -Gretchen Grabowski, Travel & Leisure Analyst

Some issues addressed in this report include:

  • Travel loyalty programs joined and used
  • What consumers want from airline frequent flyer programs
  • What consumers want from hotel loyalty programs
  • What consumers want from car rental loyalty programs
  • Sought-after travel rewards

Some 44% of survey respondents claim to have membership in a frequent travel program. When projected onto the total U.S. population, that equates to some 138 million Americans. Total loyalty program memberships in the U.S. surpass 2.6 billion—which means that the average participant belongs to nearly 11 different programs, and competition is fierce to keep them engaged. Tendencies to pursue opportunities for reward redemption depend on a variety of factors, such as gender, household income, and age. When they do redeem rewards, travelers’ preferences for exactly how to do so, and which benefits they perceive as having the most value, also vary by travel sector. They are likely to be most receptive to travel rewards that are customized to their needs and preferences.


This report explores whether consumers join frequent travel programs and how often they take advantage of the benefits of such programs. It measures consumer preferences for how to redeem frequent travel rewards, and covers the barriers to redeeming travel rewards. Travel reward redemption through third-party travel providers and credit card enrollment and usage is also explored in consumer data for this report.


Frequent travel and loyalty programs refer to membership programs thorough which travelers can accrue rewards for travel with participating providers and redeem them for future benefits. Travel programs considered for the purposes of this report include airline frequent flyer programs, hotel loyalty programs, and car rental loyalty programs.

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Table of contents

  1. Scope and Themes

    • What you need to know
      • Definition
        • Loyalty program membership data
          • Consumer survey data
            • Abbreviations and terms
              • Abbreviations
                • Terms
                • Executive Summary

                    • Loyalty program memberships
                      • Figure 1: Total U.S. loyalty program memberships and active memberships, 2006-12 
                    • Airlines account for largest share of travel loyalty programs
                      • Figure 2: Share of U.S. travel loyalty program memberships, by segment, 2012
                    • Influences on frequent travel program membership
                      • Traveler sentiment increases with improving economy, may drive membership growth
                        • Travelers may also join loyalty programs to offset the rising cost of travel
                          • The consumer
                            • Travel loyalty program membership increases with age
                              • Figure 3: Frequent travel program memberships (May 2013), hotel/motel stays in the last 12 months (August 2012), booked domestic travel in the last 12 months (August 2012), by age
                            • Savings and other perks of point redemption encourage travel program membership
                              • Figure 4: Agreement that membership in travel loyalty programs is worth it for crossover rewards, by age, May 2013
                            • Travelers need to be convinced they can benefit from loyalty rewards
                              • Figure 5: Opinions about losing travel loyalty points and using them to redeem rewards, May 2013
                            • Reward preferences vary by type of travel program
                              • What we think
                              • Issues and Insights

                                  • Travel loyalty programs joined and used
                                    • The issues
                                      • The implications
                                        • What consumers want from airline frequent flyer programs
                                          • The issues
                                            • The implications
                                              • What consumers want from hotel loyalty programs
                                                • The issues
                                                  • The implications
                                                    • What consumers want from car rental loyalty programs
                                                      • The issues
                                                        • The implications
                                                          • Sought-after travel rewards
                                                            • The issues
                                                              • The implications
                                                              • Trend Application

                                                                  • Inspire trend: Extend My Brand
                                                                    • Inspire trend: Many Mes
                                                                      • Mintel Futures: Generation Next
                                                                      • U.S. Loyalty Program Memberships

                                                                        • Key points
                                                                          • Loyalty program memberships increased, but less than half are active
                                                                            • Figure 6: Total U.S. loyalty program memberships and active memberships, 2006-12
                                                                            • Figure 7: Share of U.S. loyalty program memberships, by category, 2012
                                                                          • Airlines account for largest share of travel loyalty program memberships
                                                                            • Figure 8: U.S. travel loyalty program memberships, by segment, 2012
                                                                            • Figure 9: Total U.S. airline loyalty program memberships, 2006-12
                                                                            • Figure 10: Total U.S. hotel loyalty program memberships, 2006-12
                                                                            • Figure 11: Total U.S. car-rental/cruise loyalty program memberships, 2008-12
                                                                        • Factors Influencing Travel Program Membership

                                                                          • Key points
                                                                            • Improved traveler sentiment may encourage travel program membership
                                                                              • Figure 12: Overall Traveler Sentiment Index, March 2007-April 2013
                                                                            • Rising cost of travel may drive loyalty program membership
                                                                              • Figure 13: Travel Price Index, June 2012, May 2013, and June 2013*
                                                                            • Travel loyalty programs may become fewer as providers consolidate
                                                                            • Innovations and Innovators

                                                                              • Overview
                                                                                • Loyalty program members can connect, search for deals on FlyerTalk
                                                                                  • VOILÀ gives travelers loyalty points for using independent hotels
                                                                                    • Figure 14: VOILÀ refer a friend web promotion, July 2013
                                                                                  • Airlines introducing ways for pets to accrue frequent flyer miles
                                                                                    • JetBlue
                                                                                      • Figure 15: JetBlue JetPaws pet carrier, July 2013
                                                                                    • Virgin America
                                                                                        • Figure 16: Virgin Australia Velocity pet program web ad, July 2013
                                                                                      • Expedia offers array of rewards through global travel game
                                                                                          • Figure 17: Expedia Around the World in 100 Days game avatar, August 2013
                                                                                      • Marketing Strategies and Initiatives

                                                                                        • Overview
                                                                                          • Airlines’ frequent flyer promotions highlight program flexibility
                                                                                            • Southwest Airlines
                                                                                              • Figure 18: Southwest Airlines “Your Pursuit Flies Here” TV ad, June 2013
                                                                                              • Figure 19: Southwest Airlines in-flight “no blackout dates” napkin, July 2013
                                                                                            • Qantas Airlines
                                                                                              • Figure 20: Qantas Airlines “For Every Journey” TV ad, June 2013
                                                                                            • Hotel loyalty programs market free nights, but also highlight the “extras”
                                                                                              • Best Western
                                                                                                • Figure 21: Best Western loyalty program web ad, July 2013
                                                                                              • Kimpton Hotels
                                                                                                • Figure 22: Kimpton Hotels InTouch loyalty program web ad, July 2013
                                                                                              • Car rental companies also promote crossover benefits
                                                                                                • Avis/Budget
                                                                                                  • Figure 23: Avis/Alaska Airlines crossover rewards web ad, July 2013
                                                                                                  • Figure 24: Avis/Budget/Virgin America crossover rewards web ad, July 2013
                                                                                                • Travel providers across all sectors soliciting loyalty through direct mail
                                                                                                  • Figure 25: Number of airline, hotel, and car rental airline direct mail pieces sent, by month, August 2012-June 2013
                                                                                                • Airlines
                                                                                                  • Figure 26: Airline direct mail pieces sent, by airline, August 2012-June 2013
                                                                                                  • Figure 27: American Airlines elite status direct mail piece, June 2013
                                                                                                • Hotels
                                                                                                  • Figure 28: Hotel direct mail pieces sent, by hotel brand, August 2012-June 2013
                                                                                                  • Figure 29: Marriott Rewards direct mail piece, June 2013
                                                                                                • Car rentals
                                                                                                  • Figure 30: Car rental direct mail pieces sent, by car rental company, August 2012-June 2013
                                                                                              • Frequent Travel Program Membership and Usage

                                                                                                • Key points
                                                                                                  • Airline and hotel loyalty programs have the most appeal
                                                                                                    • Figure 31: Airline, hotel, and car rental bookings in the last three years (August 2012) and airline, hotel, and car rental frequent travel program memberships (May 2013)
                                                                                                  • Providers have opportunity to market frequent travel programs to young adults
                                                                                                    • Figure 32: Airline, hotel, and car rental frequent travel program memberships, by age, May 2013
                                                                                                  • Travel program members split in reward redemption tendencies
                                                                                                    • Figure 33: Airline, hotel, and car rental reward redemption, May 2013
                                                                                                  • Men more likely to redeem all types of travel rewards, women should be engaged
                                                                                                    • Figure 34: Travel booked in the last 12 months (August 2012) and loyalty program members’ airline, hotel, and car rental reward redemption in the last three years (May 2013), by gender
                                                                                                  • Travel providers should consider benefits of loyalty program favorites
                                                                                                    • Delta tops airline frequent flyer programs, but others may give easier reward access
                                                                                                      • Figure 35: Types of frequent flyer programs currently enrolled in, January 2012-March 2013
                                                                                                      • Figure 36: Top five ranking for airline reward seats redeemed between June and October 2013, May 2013
                                                                                                    • Hertz the most popular car rental loyalty program
                                                                                                      • Figure 37: Enrollment in car rental priority privilege programs/clubs, January 2012-March 2013
                                                                                                  • Attitudes Toward Airline Frequent Flyer Programs

                                                                                                    • Key points
                                                                                                      • Free flight benefits the primary draw of frequent flyer programs
                                                                                                        • Figure 38: Attitudes toward airline frequent flyer programs, May 2013
                                                                                                      • Young adults interested in frequent flyer programs’ other travel benefits
                                                                                                        • Figure 39: Attitudes toward airline frequent flyer programs, by age, May 2013
                                                                                                    • Attitudes Toward Hotel Loyalty Programs

                                                                                                      • Key points
                                                                                                        • One third motivated by hotel loyalty programs’ free nights, upgrades
                                                                                                          • Figure 40: Attitudes toward hotel loyalty programs, May 2013
                                                                                                        • More young adults want free hotel meals and crossover rewards
                                                                                                          • Figure 41: Attitudes toward hotel loyalty programs, by age, May 2013
                                                                                                      • Attitudes Toward Car Rental Loyalty Programs

                                                                                                        • Key points
                                                                                                          • Speedier reservations an opportunity for car rental loyalty programs
                                                                                                            • Figure 42: Attitudes toward car rental loyalty programs, May 2013
                                                                                                            • Figure 43: USRentACar mobile rental wait time app, May 2012
                                                                                                          • Other membership benefits, fewer rental fees a focus for young adults
                                                                                                            • Figure 44: Attitudes toward car rental loyalty programs, by age, May 2013
                                                                                                            • Figure 45: Licensed drivers’ opinions on the difficulty of owning a car due to gas, parking, and maintenance costs, by age, December 2012
                                                                                                        • Travel Loyalty Programs and Business Travel

                                                                                                          • Key point
                                                                                                            • Loyalty program members inclined to link benefits to business travel
                                                                                                              • Figure 46: Agreement that you have to be a business traveler to take full advantage of loyalty program benefits, by loyalty program membership, May 2013
                                                                                                            • United Airlines
                                                                                                              • Southwest Airlines
                                                                                                                • Figure 47: Southwest business select print ad, July 2013
                                                                                                            • The Cost of Travel Loyalty Program Membership

                                                                                                              • Key points
                                                                                                                • Most travel loyalty program members aware of financial benefits
                                                                                                                  • Figure 48: Members’ opinions about the cost savings of frequent travel program membership, May 2013
                                                                                                                • Convincing non-members they can save money may be the bigger challenge
                                                                                                                  • Figure 49: Agreement that loyalty program membership saves money, by membership, May 2013
                                                                                                                • Consumers don’t think membership justifies higher travel spending
                                                                                                                  • Figure 50: Agreement that it is worth paying more for airfare, to stay at a specific hotel brand, or rent a car if you belong to a travel loyalty program, May 2013
                                                                                                              • Travel Loyalty Reward Redemption Preferences

                                                                                                                • Key points
                                                                                                                  • Immediate flight rewards can encourage frequent flyer membership
                                                                                                                    • Figure 51: Interest in frequent flyer reward redemption options, May 2013
                                                                                                                  • Hoteliers may profit from expanding loyalty members’ meal options
                                                                                                                    • Figure 52: Interest in hotel loyalty reward redemption options, May 2013
                                                                                                                  • Free GPS, flexible returns present opportunity for car rental programs
                                                                                                                    • Figure 53: Interest in car rental loyalty reward redemption options, May 2013
                                                                                                                    • Figure 54: Actual and forecast retail price of gasoline per gallon, January 2009-December 2014
                                                                                                                • Opinions About Frequent Travel Programs

                                                                                                                  • Key points
                                                                                                                    • For many, travel reward redemption may be too difficult
                                                                                                                      • Figure 55: Frequent travel program members’ opinions about the ease of redeeming travel reward benefits, May 2013
                                                                                                                      • Figure 56: Employees’ vacation days earned and used, by country, 2012
                                                                                                                    • Most think there are limits to the benefits of reward travel
                                                                                                                      • Figure 57: Frequent travel program members’ opinions about travel reward program limitations, May 2013
                                                                                                                  • Impact of Race and Hispanic Origin

                                                                                                                    • Key points
                                                                                                                      • Blacks, Hispanics the least likely to belong to frequent travel programs
                                                                                                                        • Figure 58: Airline, hotel, and car rental frequent travel program memberships, by race/Hispanic origin, May 2013
                                                                                                                        • Figure 59: Median household income, by race and Hispanic origin of householder, 2011
                                                                                                                      • Blacks, Hispanics more likely to want flight upgrades
                                                                                                                        • Figure 60: Interest in airline frequent flyer reward redemption options, by race/Hispanic origin, May 2013
                                                                                                                      • More Hispanics also drawn to nightly hotel upgrade discounts
                                                                                                                        • Figure 61: Interest in reward redemption options for hotel loyalty programs, by race/Hispanic origin, May 2013
                                                                                                                      • Flexible car rental return locations another way to attract Hispanics
                                                                                                                        • Figure 62: Interest in reward redemption options for car rental loyalty programs, by race/Hispanic origin, May 2013
                                                                                                                    • Cluster Analysis

                                                                                                                        • Figure 63: Frequent travel program member clusters, May 2013
                                                                                                                      • Extra-Benefit-Seekers
                                                                                                                        • Opportunity
                                                                                                                          • Loyalty Program Enthusiasts
                                                                                                                            • Opportunity
                                                                                                                              • Loyalty Program Skeptics
                                                                                                                                • Opportunity
                                                                                                                                  • Cluster characteristics
                                                                                                                                    • Figure 64: Airline, hotel, and car rental frequent travel program memberships, by frequent travel program member clusters, May 2013
                                                                                                                                    • Figure 65: Attitudes toward airline frequent flyer programs, by frequent travel program member clusters, May 2013
                                                                                                                                    • Figure 66: Attitudes toward hotel loyalty programs, by frequent travel program member clusters, May 2013
                                                                                                                                    • Figure 67: Attitudes toward car rental loyalty programs, by frequent travel program member clusters, May 2013
                                                                                                                                    • Figure 68: Interest in frequent flyer reward redemption options, by frequent travel program member clusters, May 2013
                                                                                                                                    • Figure 69: Interest in hotel loyalty reward redemption options, by frequent travel program member clusters, May 2013
                                                                                                                                    • Figure 70: Interest in car rental loyalty reward redemption options, by frequent travel program member clusters, May 2013
                                                                                                                                    • Figure 71: Members’ opinions about frequent traveler programs, by frequent travel program member clusters, May 2013
                                                                                                                                  • Cluster demographics
                                                                                                                                    • Figure 72: Profile of frequent travel program member clusters, by gender, age, and gender and age, May 2013
                                                                                                                                    • Figure 73: Profile of frequent travel program member clusters, by household income and race/Hispanic origin, May 2013
                                                                                                                                  • Cluster methodology
                                                                                                                                  • Appendix – Other Useful Consumer Tables

                                                                                                                                    • Frequent travel program membership and usage
                                                                                                                                      • Figure 74: Airline, hotel, and car rental frequent traveler program memberships, by gender, May 2013
                                                                                                                                      • Figure 75: Airline, hotel, and car rental frequent traveler program memberships, by gender and age, May 2013
                                                                                                                                      • Figure 76: Airline, hotel, and car rental frequent traveler program memberships, by household income, May 2013
                                                                                                                                      • Figure 77: Airline, hotel, and car rental frequent traveler program memberships, by marital/relationship status, May 2013
                                                                                                                                      • Figure 78: Airline, hotel, and car rental frequent traveler program memberships, by presence of children in the household, May 2013
                                                                                                                                      • Figure 79: Airline, hotel, and car rental frequent traveler program memberships, by airline, hotel, and car rental frequent traveler program memberships, May 2013
                                                                                                                                      • Figure 80: Number of times airline frequent flyer rewards redeemed in the last three years, by gender, May 2013
                                                                                                                                      • Figure 81: Number of times airline frequent flyer rewards redeemed in the last three years, by gender and age, May 2013
                                                                                                                                      • Figure 82: Number of times airline frequent flyer rewards redeemed in the last three years, by household income, May 2013
                                                                                                                                      • Figure 83: Number of times hotel loyalty program rewards redeemed in the last three years, by gender, May 2013
                                                                                                                                      • Figure 84: Number of times hotel loyalty program rewards redeemed in the last three years, by gender and age, May 2013
                                                                                                                                      • Figure 85: Number of times hotel loyalty program rewards redeemed in the last three years, by household income, May 2013
                                                                                                                                      • Figure 86: Number of times car rental loyalty program rewards redeemed in the last three years, by gender, May 2013
                                                                                                                                      • Figure 87: Number of times car rental loyalty program rewards redeemed in the last three years, by age, May 2013
                                                                                                                                      • Figure 88: Number of times car rental loyalty program rewards redeemed in the last three years, by household income, May 2013
                                                                                                                                    • Attitudes toward airline frequent flyer programs
                                                                                                                                      • Figure 89: Attitudes toward airline frequent flyer programs, by gender, May 2013
                                                                                                                                      • Figure 90: Attitudes toward airline frequent flyer programs, by household income, May 2013
                                                                                                                                      • Figure 91: Attitudes toward airline frequent flyer programs, by race/Hispanic origin, May 2013
                                                                                                                                      • Figure 92: Attitudes toward airline frequent flyer programs, by frequent flyer program membership, May 2013
                                                                                                                                      • Figure 93: Frequent flyer program members’ attitudes toward airline frequent flyer programs, rewards redeemed vs. not redeemed in the last three years, May 2013
                                                                                                                                    • Attitudes toward hotel loyalty programs
                                                                                                                                      • Figure 94: Attitudes toward hotel loyalty programs, by gender, May 2013
                                                                                                                                      • Figure 95: Attitudes toward hotel loyalty programs, by household income, May 2013
                                                                                                                                      • Figure 96: Attitudes toward hotel loyalty programs, by race/Hispanic origin, May 2013
                                                                                                                                      • Figure 97: Attitudes toward hotel loyalty programs, by hotel loyalty program membership, May 2013
                                                                                                                                      • Figure 98: Hotel loyalty program members’ attitudes toward hotel loyalty programs, rewards redeemed vs. not redeemed in the last three years, May 2013
                                                                                                                                    • Attitudes toward car rental loyalty programs
                                                                                                                                      • Figure 99: Attitudes toward car rental loyalty programs, by gender, May 2013
                                                                                                                                      • Figure 100: Attitudes toward car rental loyalty programs, by household income, May 2013
                                                                                                                                      • Figure 101: Attitudes toward car rental loyalty programs, by race/Hispanic origin, May 2013
                                                                                                                                      • Figure 102: Attitudes toward car rental loyalty programs, by car rental loyalty program membership, May 2013
                                                                                                                                      • Figure 103: Car rental loyalty program members’ attitudes toward car rental loyalty programs, rewards redeemed vs. not redeemed in the last three years, May 2013
                                                                                                                                    • Travel loyalty reward redemption preferences
                                                                                                                                      • Figure 104: Interest in frequent flyer reward redemption options, by gender, May 2013
                                                                                                                                      • Figure 105: Interest in frequent flyer reward redemption options, by age, May 2013
                                                                                                                                      • Figure 106: Interest in frequent flyer reward redemption options, by household income, May 2013
                                                                                                                                      • Figure 107: Interest in frequent flyer reward redemption options, Millennial parents vs. non-Millennial parents, May 2013
                                                                                                                                      • Figure 108: Interest in frequent flyer reward redemption options, by frequent flyer program membership, May 2013
                                                                                                                                      • Figure 109: Interest in hotel loyalty reward redemption options, by gender, May 2013
                                                                                                                                      • Figure 110: Interest in hotel loyalty reward redemption options, by age, May 2013
                                                                                                                                      • Figure 111: Interest in hotel loyalty reward redemption options, by household income, May 2013
                                                                                                                                      • Figure 112: Interest in hotel loyalty reward redemption options, Millennial parents vs. non-Millennial parents, May 2013
                                                                                                                                      • Figure 113: Interest in hotel loyalty reward redemption options, by hotel loyalty program membership, May 2013
                                                                                                                                      • Figure 114: Interest in car rental loyalty reward redemption options, by gender, May 2013
                                                                                                                                      • Figure 115: Interest in car rental loyalty reward redemption options, by age, May 2013
                                                                                                                                      • Figure 116: Interest in car rental loyalty reward redemption options, by household income, May 2013
                                                                                                                                      • Figure 117: Interest in car rental loyalty programs, by car rental loyalty program membership, May 2013
                                                                                                                                    • Opinions about frequent travel programs
                                                                                                                                      • Figure 118: Members’ opinions about frequent traveler programs, by gender, May 2013
                                                                                                                                      • Figure 119: Members’ opinions about frequent traveler programs, by age, May 2013
                                                                                                                                      • Figure 120: Members’ opinions about frequent traveler programs, by household income, May 2013
                                                                                                                                      • Figure 121: Members’ opinions about frequent traveler programs, by race/Hispanic origin, May 2013
                                                                                                                                  • Appendix – Trade Associations

                                                                                                                                    Companies Covered

                                                                                                                                    • Avis Group Holdings Inc.
                                                                                                                                    • Best Western International Inc.
                                                                                                                                    • Expedia Inc.
                                                                                                                                    • Hyatt Corporation
                                                                                                                                    • JetBlue Airways Corporation
                                                                                                                                    • Marriott International, Inc.
                                                                                                                                    • Qantas Airways Limited
                                                                                                                                    • Southwest Airlines Co.
                                                                                                                                    • Virgin America

                                                                                                                                    Frequent Travel Programs - US - August 2013

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