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For more than 15 months, the global travel industry has been significantly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Business travel has fallen dramatically, and the holiday market has also been hit hard by border closings. In this situation, customer loyalty is more important than ever: For airlines and frequent flyer programmes such as Emirates Skywards, loyal customers are an important asset in order to be able to successfully fly out of the crisis as quickly as possible. In return, frequent flyers also have expectations from the airline or the programme.
InsideFlyer recently had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Nejib Ben Khedher, Divisional Senior Vice President, Emirates Skywards, and asked how Emirates is handling the current situation and what the airline’s forecast is for the coming months.
Emirates Skywards aims to offer flexibility and security
Due to the dynamic situation, travel plans change at very short notice – flights have to be postponed or even cancelled at short notice. “Right from the start, it was very important to us to offer our passengers and members of Emirates Skywards as much flexibility as possible, ” says Dr. Nejib Ben Khedher.
“At Emirates, we were quick to respond and take appropriate steps. This includes that we have extended the validity of flight tickets to up to 36 months so that they can easily be rebooked. We have also introduced free travel insurance that offers our guests the protection they need in the worst-case scenario.”
Accommodate frequent flyers
“For our particularly loyal guests, who otherwise travel thousands of kilometers on board Emirates every year, a lot has changed in the past year“, says Dr. Nejib Ben Khedher.
“Air travel fell drastically, so that in principle it was not possible to maintain elite status at Emirates Skywards with flights. We are of course aware of this and as part of this we were the first airline to extend our frequent flyer status by one year very early in 2021, as well as the validity of miles.”
At Emirates, it was also important to create as many points of contact with Emirates Skywards for programme members, despite the reduced number of flights.
“We reacted quickly here too and developed the Skywards program from a traditional frequent flyer offer to a travel lifestyle loyalty program that appeals to Emirates customers on a broad basis. So we have increased the cooperation with partners in retail where you can not only collect miles, but also redeem them. While previously only 30 percent of Skywards Miles were collected or redeemed through partners, this has now changed and is 70 percent…
Our goal was and is that Emirates Skywards is constantly present for our members and that there is a high level of interaction“
What does the future look like for Emirates?
Dr. Nejib Ben Khedher is quite optimistic about leisure travel bouncing back:
“We can clearly feel how the world gradually breathes a sigh of relief. People can hardly wait to travel again, especially in the leisure sector and to see their families, some of whom are scattered all over the world. At Emirates, we expect holiday traffic to gradually return to the level we were before the COVID-19 crisis.
We also feel that many of our guests are currently flying with us for the first time and we have the chance to convince them of us and win them as returning customers. In this regard, we are offering 2,000 upfront Skywards Miles to every new member who joins the program with the “Skywards” invitation code, which corresponds to a discount of USD 20 when redeemed using the Cash & Miles option”.
For business travel, the future is more complicated:
“The business travel segment is currently down in comparison to earlier times, there is no question about that. At the same time, however, one must not forget that video conferencing cannot replace everything. Human contact and face-to-face meetings are very important. People also want to meet the professional contacts personally again in real life and return to a certain normalcy. We were able to observe that very well at the last conferences and trade fairs, which took place in Dubai .”
In terms of providing alternative ways to collect/spend loyalty programme points, similar trends have been apparent across the industry of course. Here in the UK, British Airways Executive Club’s partnership with Nectar is a great example. It will be interesting to see whether those sorts of partnerships become a permanent (and valuable) part of airline loyalty programmes, or whether the value shifts back to using points/miles specifically for flights.