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Unlocking Airline Loyalty: What Factors Matter Most to Today’s Travelers?

OAG surveyed 2,000 travelers to determine how loyalty and booking decisions are affected by different factors. Results varied by generation

by Lark Gould

August 29, 2023

Photo: Courtesy of Daniel McCullough / Unsplash

The new classes of travelers entering the workforce and joining the masses of frequent fliers may not be as brand-conscious about their flight choices as their predecessors—and airline companies are listening.

OAG, a global provider of digital flight intelligence, recently polled 2,000 North American travelers aged 18-60+ to determine what factors affect traveler loyalty and booking decisions. The upshot? It depends on the generation.

Cost? Still Important

Easily, 60 percent of respondents named cost as the most important consideration when making travel plans, especially regarding airline preferences. But a closer look found an astounding 77 percent of Gen Z, the newest cohort, to be the most apt to transfer airline choices based on price.

Photo: Virtual credit card. Courtesy of / Unsplash

The cost was prioritized by 69 percent of the Gen X group and 59 percent of Millennials. In comparison, only 47 percent of Baby Boomers said that price was a significant factor in their choice of airline.

Cost aside, in an era of continuous delays, cancelations, and flight disruptions, passenger loyalty remains severely challenged in all age groups. The survey found 37 percent of all travelers had switched airline preferences in the past year. And not surprisingly, Millennials proved most prominent in this practice, with 42 percent changing their airline loyalty programs because of a significant delay or cancellation. Gen Z followed by 38 percent, Baby Boomers by 32 percent, and Gen X by 31 percent.

On-Time Performance is Key

According to the survey, on-time performance (OTP) is the key to loyalty for airlines. But it’s the younger travelers who place the most value on OTP, with a solid 63 percent of Gen Z fliers pledging allegiance to their favorite airline because of its success in maintaining on-time arrivals. This group is followed closely by Millennials, with 52 percent prioritizing punctuality. Gen X and Baby Boomers showed less concern for this factor at 35 percent and 25 percent, respectively.

Photo: Courtesy of Danila Hamsterman / Unsplash

A solid quarter of Baby Boomer passengers claim airline loyalty programs to be the cause for their continuous allegiance to a particular brand, noting status and frequent flier benefits as significant drivers of their flight choices.

Network is also paramount

In contrast, according to the report, a sizable percentage of travelers, including 34 percent of Baby Boomers and 46 percent of Gen Z, have switched airlines to access more schedules, better fares, and enhanced travel options.

Photo: Courtesy of Skyler Smith / Unsplash

American Airlines topped the list of preferred airlines, cited by 28 percent of those polled. Delta Air Lines followed with 24 percent, United Airlines with 17 percent, and Southwest Airlines with 13 percent, all corresponding with their average market share numbers in the U.S.

As for one issue that crossed age tiers equally, 90 percent of the travelers surveyed believe airlines should be required to offer flight disruption compensation.

“Travelers across every generation are making it known that winning their loyalty will require a radically different approach,” said John Grant, chief analyst at OAG. “Understanding how to cater to various age groups while addressing their widely shared concerns is critical for airlines, airports, and travel and tech providers across the industry to win and maintain the loyalty of future generations.”