Way back in 2001 we registered a business name and established a website domain under the trading title of MILESCloser.
The idea then, which still has not changed, was to target the hundreds of millions of frequent flyer members who largely use their accumulated miles on vacation or holiday travel.
One of the impediments to growing the United States market especially, has been the reality that because we are a little further away from key source market cities. Inevitably airfares are often more expensive, resulting in the overall cost of the ‘vacation’ making it more difficult when competing with other destinations.
This is especially true with non-gateway departure points. A good example is Minneapolis-St. Paul to Barbados where the current cheapest bookable fare online in October or early November is US$761 economy return. For the same dates the miles required are just 25,000 and US$60.60 in taxes.
So by getting rid of the perceived ‘high’ airfare, we then only have to compete on accommodation options.
Gone are the days when you only earned miles by flying. In fact it is now almost the entire opposite. Most miles are gained by non-airline purchases.
The first major airline loyalty programme, American AAdvantage now boasts over 1,000 partners who offer miles simply by selecting a method of payment.
Among these are financial institutions who offer huge mileage incentives to sign-up with particular brand name credit cards, which in many cases grant sufficient miles on application for the first flight, without any or a very limited level of purchasing.
By selectively using a miles earning credit card to pay every day bills, it is surprising just how quickly the numbers mount. Personally I have not bought an airline ticket for myself for some time, but have currently amassed nearly 600,000 miles.
As pointed out several times before, miles break down the geographical distance barriers and enable us to market on a level playing field. Already with the changes rapidly taking place in our national marketing agency (BTMI) in the USA we are starting to see positive improvements in numbers. A spectacular coup was convincing what is perceived as a low cost carrier, JetBlue, to introduce their new MINT service to Barbados later this year. As their website states this premium service offers ‘fully flat seats, fresh dining options and revitalising amenities’.
According to media releases MINT was originally intended for trans-continental long haul services. To have this ‘product’ as a travelling alternative augurs well for our first and business class market, who are both willing and able to pay considerably more.
I am sure too, that it will prove a catalyst for other carriers to upgrade existing services, just to stay competitive. Hopefully, bookings will be monitored to evaluate what percentage of travellers upgrading their seats to MINT, by redeeming their miles to do so.
There has been recent discussion about vastly improving data collection captured on the landing cards. A simple tick box, asking ‘did you travel to Barbados on miles?’ might just reinforce my point and perhaps be a revelation for our tourism planners.