Many airline loyalty programs are failing to deliver on their intended purpose because members do not understand how to redeem the awards they accumulate. In fact, according to the J.D. Power 'Airline Loyalty Program Satisfaction Study', nearly half (45%) of program members say they do not understand how to redeem their miles and/or points. This lack of understanding has a significant negative effect on overall customer satisfaction. This article is copyright 2020 The Best Customer Guide.

"This is the third year in a row that we've seen airline loyalty program customer satisfaction hampered by a widespread lack of understanding of how to extract the most value from the programs," said Michael Taylor, Travel Intelligence Lead at J.D. Power. "Many airlines are evaluating the success of their loyalty programs based on dollars spent by travelers rather than on miles flown. That's a significant shift away from rewarding frequent travelers and toward rewarding high spenders."

Following are some key findings of the study:

  • Lack of understanding program details negatively affects satisfaction
    While overall industry satisfaction increases to 789 (on a 1,000-point scale) from 776 in 2018, airline loyalty program member satisfaction climbs 135 points when members understand how to redeem points and increases 129 points when members understand how to earn points. Yet, nearly half (45%) of general loyalty program members say they do not completely understand how to redeem rewards and 43% say they do not fully understand how to earn miles/points.
  • Recognition goes a long way toward building customer loyalty
    Overall satisfaction scores increase 102 points when passengers' names are used by airline staff, yet this occurs just 35% of the time. Similarly, overall satisfaction climbs points when a member of the airline staff recognizes a loyalty program member's status during the booking, check-in, departure or flight. However, this happens more than half (53%) of the time.
  • Most important perks
    Among specific benefits and rewards used through airline loyalty programs, discounts on airport and limousine services drive the most significant increase in overall satisfaction (+102 points), followed by waiving same-day change fees (+95) and lowest rate guarantee (+94).
  • Increased mobile app use associated with higher satisfaction
    Mobile app usage among loyalty program members has increased 10% during the past year, with 56% of program members reporting that they have such a mobile app on their smartphone or tablet. Loyalty members with mobile apps are more satisfied overall (+70 points) than members without the mobile app.
  • Top rankings
    JetBlue Airways TrueBlue, with a score of 821, ranked highest in overall member satisfaction for a third consecutive year in the 2019 study. Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards (812) ranked second and Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan (810) ranked third.

The 2019 Airline Loyalty Program Satisfaction Study measured member satisfaction with airline rewards and loyalty programs based on four factors (in order of importance): earning and redeeming rewards (34%); program benefits (27%); account management (24%); and member communication (15%). The study was based on 3,188 responses from rewards program members and was fielded in August-September 2019. To learn more about the study, visit: