August 15, 2019

Travel Series Part 1: How Alaska Airlines catches traveler attention by going outside its frequent flyer programs

Written By
Jon Day

TL;DR - Why should you read this? 

  • Why is Dosh writing about a travel brand? Dosh launched its new Hotels feature to disrupt the traditional Online Travel Agency (OTA) model, offering subscribers up to 50% cash back automatically on over 600,000 hotels worldwide.
  • How is this relevant to card-linked offers? The travel industry has long leveraged rewards and loyalty programs to attract and retain customers.
  • Why should I care? Alaska Airlines has has created a world-class rewards experience, which is a cash study retailers both inside and outside of travel can leverage.
  • What's one key take-away? Alaska Airlines partnered with local organizations to tailor its rewards program at the community-level.

The summer travel season is in full swing, and travel companies– from airlines to hotels to tour groups– are eager to capture the attention of today’s deal-savvy travelers. According to a report by AIG travel, more than 51 percent of travelers say great deals and discounts are what prompts them to make a travel booking.

While airlines have offered frequent mile programs for decades (the first frequent flyer mileage program was launched in 1979!), only a small sector of elite travelers can benefit from these programs given the number of miles needed to book a flight. According to PricewaterhouseCoopers, only 7 percent of all trips are taken using frequent flyer miles rewards programs. And due to increasingly full flights as more travelers choose to fly over other transit options, the threshold for using miles to book a flight will likely only increase. 

Without being able to rely solely on miles to scale their loyalty base, airlines are being forced to get more creative in attracting travelers. To get a better idea of who is really changing the status quo for airline loyalty programs, we took a look at the airline ranked No. 1 by U.S. News & World Report in mileage loyalty programs: Seattle-based Alaska Airlines. U.S. News & World Report cited the airline’s partner options for earning and redeeming points as well as its ease of earning a free flight as reasons for earning this top spot; however, Alaska Airlines is doing more than just offering a top-notch mileage program. 

With a strong West-Coast presence and a base of coveted travelers across major markets including the Bay Area, Alaska Airlines has recently doubled down on its efforts to build brand recognition in these markets, from giveaways on social media to sponsoring local events. And while this may sound like marketing 101 for entering a new market, it’s the local partners and events Alaska Airlines has chosen to work with that show just how well the airlines knows its target audience. 

Fueled by giveaways and sweepstakes, below are some Alaska Airlines latest campaigns that have made a splash across its key West Coast markets.

  • Drawing a crowd: Perhaps one of Alaska’s most well-known campaigns is its work with the San Francisco Giants. Named the official partner of the Giants in 2017, each year Alaska Airlines offers a series of promotions from sweepstakes to 2-1 flight vouchers at specific Giants’ games. While these types of promotions are effective at building hype organically through word-of-mouth, Alaska also promotes these giveaways on social, encouraging fans to engage with the airline by posting with a specific hashtag or tagging the airline’s handle to help further build buzz. With 372K followers on Twitter, these giveaways have helped the airline not only earn more followers and overall visibility with the Giants more than 40,000 game attendees (on average), but also new flyers by issuing these deals.
  • Knowing their audience: Not limiting their partnerships to sports teams, Alaska Airlines knows that, much like its own brand, the San Francisco market values adventure, inclusion and community. Over the years, the airline has partnered with other well-known organizations that encompass exactly those values. This is perhaps best exemplified through its official partnership with San Francisco’s annual Bay to Breakers foot race, which was renamed in 2017 to the Alaska Airlines Bay to Breakers. The race commemorates the 1967 “Summer of Love” movement and features runners wearing costumes. As part of the airline’s sponsorship, Alaska Airlines featured promotions like a photo contest, where both the winner and two voters won travel for two with the airline. Another key San Francisco-based campaign for the airline was its  “Bike for Miles” giveaway. Timed with the 25th anniversary of the San Francisco Bay Area Bike to Work Day, Alaska Airlines partnered with GoBike to invite travelers to post photos of themselves on social media biking to work for 5,000 Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan miles. With these types of themed, timely promotions, Alaska Airlines is keeping a steady drumbeat of touch-points with the Bay Area’s active, adventurous market.
  • Creating community:  Another key moment for Alaska Airlines this past year has been their #FlyWithPride campaign during pride month. Showing its support for the LGBTQ community, Alaska Airlines offered the chance to win tickets and fly nonstop to a Pride festival in San Diego, San Francisco, Palm Springs, Portland, Anchorage or Honolulu by simply following @AlaskaAir and retweeting the post with the hashtag #FlyWithPride. Similar to the campaigns above, the campaign showcased that the airline values inclusivity, while helping grow its base of followers. 

These promotions show an airline can do far more than rely on frequent flyer programs to earn the hearts of travelers. For Alaska Airlines, that means partnering with the organizations and events that matter to its audience and giving them the chance to earn travel rewards without the complicated process of calculating frequent flyer miles. With the help of a strong social media engagement strategy, Alaska Airlines is quickly becoming a favorite among today’s travelers.

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