FREQUENT travellers can become obsessed by loyalty schemes. Road warriors search out “points gurus”, who pass on wisdom about how to wring out every last air mile and hotel upgrade from a programme, whether by signing up for a new credit card or booking a particular flight. The biggest airline scheme, American Airlines’ AAdvantage, has an estimated 100m elite members; the largest hotel programme, IHG’s Rewards Club, almost as many. But hotels and airlines have historically used such schemes in slightly different ways.

Air travel is often seen as a commodity. A flight is the miserable part of a trip that must be endured to reach somewhere exciting. True, there are degrees of torture. But carriers’ economy-class service is similar enough that it does not really matter whether a flyer boards a United or Delta plane. Hence the best way to ensure that a customer continues to patronise your airline, rather than an equally…Continue reading