Airlines are accommodating towards their top customers

Frankfurt It has probably never been so easy to collect miles with “Miles & More”. Since March 1st and until the end of June, frequent flyers on flights with all airlines in the Lufthansa Group and the fully integrated Miles & More partners are to be credited with double status miles per flight. All flights taken since the beginning of the year are also subsequently booked twice.

This is part of a new goodwill offer from Europe’s largest airline to keep top customers on board. Other airlines are also accommodating their loyal customers. United Airlines has significantly lowered the hurdles for achieving frequent flyer status. And Air France-KLM gives out a bonus for status miles.

Frequent flyers welcome the promotions. “Lufthansa is trying very hard to get status customers to fly and to make it easier to extend their status with such campaigns,” says Arne Hess, consultant and regular customer at the airline until the beginning of the pandemic. That pleases him.

At the same time, Hess is skeptical as to whether these offers will bring him much. “Of course, there must also be opportunities to fly,” says the consultant: “And apart from a few possible vacation trips, things look bleak for me professionally.”

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It’s year three of the pandemic. But while the tickets for private trips are being ripped out of the hands of the airlines, business travel is still being restrained. The opening of the United States to vaccinated people last fall fueled the sale of business tickets. But the Omikron wave that is only now really rolling has caused another setback.

War in Ukraine creates new uncertainty

Added to this is the uncertainty caused by the war in Ukraine. It drives the energy and raw material costs of many companies. “Many forecasts are shaky because of the war. Savings are the order of the day again,” forecasts Gerald Wissel from the aviation consultancy Airborne Consulting in Hamburg. The Ifo business climate index, which reflects business sentiment, fell from 98.5 to 90.8 points in March – a drastic decline.

“We are currently not seeing any decline in bookings because of the war, not even among private travelers, by the way,” says Lufthansa. But as expected, business travel is recovering much more slowly than that of private customers.

>> Read about this: Oil price rally burdens the airlines: how expensive will flying be in the future?

A survey by the business travel association VDR among its member companies on March 11 shows how cautious companies will be when it comes to business trips in the future. Only 9.3 percent of the companies indicated that business travel volumes will return to pre-crisis levels. More than 60 percent assume that there will be around 30 percent fewer business trips in the future, and eleven percent expect the drop to be as much as 50 percent.

A look at North America shows that the airlines will probably have to adjust to fewer frequent flyers in the long term. There, domestic air traffic has recovered much faster and more strongly than in Europe and Germany. So the country is a kind of leading indicator. According to the American airline association A4A, the number of bookings for company trips in January was still more than 60 percent below the pre-crisis level.

Andrew Nocella, head of sales at Lufthansa partner United Airlines, spoke at the end of January of a continued difficult to predict development in business travel. The number of bookings does not allow a clear trend, one needs a little more patience.

United Airlines

The number of bookings in the USA has recovered more quickly – but there, too, interest in business trips is rather low.

(Photo: Reuters)

“The question is: will frequent flyers ever travel anywhere near the pre-pandemic level? The clear statement is: No,” says Frank Sarfeld, consultant and professionally travels a lot in normal times. With his previous employers, he often flew to the USA twice a week. “That will no longer exist,” says Sarfeld. An acquaintance who works at a bank reported how short meetings in particular are being permanently replaced by video conferences.

In addition, more and more companies are opting for trains for short journeys, for example within Germany – regardless of Deutsche Bahn’s major problems with reliability. The pressure to adjust your own climate balance is now too great, even when travelling.

This is proven by the success of a marketing campaign by Deutsche Bahn shortly before the turn of the year, the so-called “Glasgow Commitment”. Deutsche Bahn offered companies a 50 percent discount on the Bahncard 100 if they ordered it between November 15 and December 23, 2021.

According to a railway spokesman, around 900 companies with over 10,000 people use the offer – much more than the rail company had expected. Many of the new customers had to wait much longer than usual for their BahnCard.

Frequent flyers are increasingly collecting through private trips

Frequent flyer Hess believes that companies are even more cost-sensitive today than before the pandemic. Corona has shown what is possible digitally. “There is nothing like personal contact. You will also meet in person, but not at the same level as before,” says Hess. “From today’s perspective, this is not only environmental pollution, but also theft of my lifetime. There must be good reasons to travel.”

Like many others, Hess and Sarfeld are now trying to secure their status through private travel. “Man will always travel. As beautiful as Germany is, which one was able to get to know well during the pandemic, the wanderlust for foreign countries drives us so much,” says Hess.

However, it is difficult for the airlines’ previous top customers to maintain their status only with holiday trips, even if they treat themselves to business class privately on the way to their holiday. Lufthansa can safely forget the previous qualification hurdles for frequent flyers, says Sarfeld: “For Lufthansa, the only solution can actually be to generate more holiday traffic on long-haul routes. And they are also trying to do that with the new Eurowings Discover platform.”

But logically, the frequent flyer programs would then have to be adjusted accordingly and opened up more to private travelers, according to Sarfeld. “For me, vacation starts at the airport. The lounge is indispensable here,” says Hess. “I see great potential in the frequent flyer programs in the private travel market.”

More: Fraport boss warns of bottlenecks in summer: “In an emergency, you have to be at the airport 30 minutes earlier”

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