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by Vincent Alonzo | July 28, 2015
That's my earliest memory of coming into contact with an incentive program. My entire family would sit at our kitchen table licking stamps that we received for purchasing groceries, and then press them into books. When we filled enough books, we'd take them to the S&H Green Stamps redemption center and exchange them for a toaster oven -- or a hammock. Sometimes, it was an electric blanket. As far as my young mind was concerned, it was never anything good. All I ever got out of the deal was a tongue coated with that sour-tasting paste from the back of the stamps.

But it kept us as loyal customers. We had two supermarkets in our neighborhood; one gave out green stamps and one didn't. We never shopped at the store that didn't reward our loyalty. The more we bought, the more we were rewarded. That's how most loyalty programs work, whether you're getting points or stamps.

But that hasn't been the case in the airline industry. Airlines didn't give out points or stamps. Airlines gave out miles. For decades, everyone on a flight, no matter where they sat, from first class, to business, to coach, got the same amount of miles, more or less, for purchasing that flight. A few years ago, some of the maverick airlines switched to a model that takes into account the purchasing power of the consumer, as well as the frequency. And now Delta and United, two of the largest airlines in the industry, are shifting to that model, too.

After years of being rewarded for simply buying tickets, how will their loyal customers react to this new model?

That's what this issue's cover story is about. In it, Managing Editor Deanna Ting takes a look at how this shift is playing out in the marketplace. She's interviewed numerous experts in the field of consumer marketing, loyalty, and the airline industry to uncover the benefits and the pitfalls of changing the rules of a well-established loyalty program. The piece offers up some great advice and best practices for any company that may be contemplating such a move.

Maintaining loyalty is one of the most difficult goals for a company to achieve. It's a fragile quality that is easily broken. I know if my family had suddenly had to buy steak instead of hamburger to earn all those reward stamps, my tongue would have never been subjected to all that glue.