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Confused About Redeeming those Airline Loyalty Points? Study Says You’re Not Alone

J.D. Power finds airline loyalty program customers are hampered by a widespread lack of understanding on how to redeem rewards

November 6, 2019

Many airline loyalty programs are failing to deliver on their intended purpose because members do not understand how to redeem the awards they accumulate. According to the J.D. Power 2019 Airline Loyalty Program Satisfaction Study released today, nearly half (45 percent) of program members say they do not understand how to redeem their miles and/or points. This lack of understanding has a significant negative effect on overall customer satisfaction.

“This is the third year in a row that we’ve seen airline loyalty program customer satisfaction hampered by a widespread lack of understanding of how to extract the most value from the programs,” said Michael Taylor, Travel Intelligence Lead at J.D. Power. “Many airlines are evaluating the success of their loyalty programs based on dollars spent by travelers rather than on miles flown. That’s a significant shift away from rewarding frequent travelers and toward rewarding high spenders.”

Following are some key findings of the 2019 study:

• Lack of understanding program details negatively affects satisfaction: While overall industry satisfaction this year increased slightly, airline loyalty program member satisfaction tends to climb strongly when members understand how to redeem points and increases strongly when members understand how to earn points. Yet, nearly half (45 percent) of general loyalty program members say they do not completely understand how to redeem rewards and 43 percent say they do not fully understand how to earn miles/points.

• Recognition goes a long way toward building customer loyalty: Overall satisfaction scores increase when passengers’ names are used by airline staff, yet this occurs just 35 percent of the time. Similarly, overall satisfaction climbs significantly when a member of the airline staff recognizes a loyalty program member’s status during the booking, check-in, departure or flight. However, this happens more than half (53 percent) of the time.

• Most important perks: Among specific benefits and rewards used through airline loyalty programs, discounts on airport and limousine services drive the most significant increase in overall satisfaction (+102 points), followed by waiving same-day change fees (+95) and lowest rate guarantee (+94).

• Increased mobile app use associated with higher satisfaction: Mobile app usage among loyalty program members has increased 10 percent during the past year, with 56 percent of program members reporting that they have such a mobile app on their smartphone or tablet. Loyalty members with mobile apps are more satisfied overall (+70 points) than members without the mobile app.

The 2019 Airline Loyalty Program Satisfaction Study measured member satisfaction with airline rewards and loyalty programs based on four factors (in order of importance): earning and redeeming rewards; program benefits; account management; and member communication. The study is based on 3,188 responses from rewards program members and was fielded in August-September 2019.

Study Rankings

JetBlue Airways TrueBlue ranked highest in overall member satisfaction for a third consecutive year. Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards ranked second and Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan ranked third.