How Airlines Will Ramp Up Status Matches While Cracking Down On Abuse

How airlines will improve status matching in a campaign against abuse

Gary Leff on February 6, 2021.

The Loyalty Security Association, which combats frequent flyer fraud, had a conversation with Mark Ross-Smith, who offers outsourced status match as a service (StatusMatch.com “status match as a service”) to airlines (and was used to launch Malaysia Airlines’ enrichment program).

Loyalty programs offer opportunities to attract good customers, but with hotels having low occupancy rates and more flight seats than customers, competition for elites will get tougher. Enter status correspondence. Loyalty programs should be careful not to be too expensive (they offer benefits to people who do not become customers) and not to be fraudulent (there are new methods to combat status-matching fraud).

Status reconciliation campaigns have great potential, but many are poorly managed.

Ross-Smith thinks campaigns to attract a competitor’s best customers are a good idea. Questions about status, not eligibility, are useful for “captivating” customers. They force treadmill participants to gain status by getting them used to interacting with the brand. They also prevent competitors from poaching customers while trying to solve difficult problems.

  • Same-status customers have a high propensity to purchase co-branded credit cards quickly. They can be very profitable customers, but marketing must be tailored to their place in the program.
  • And programs that grant a status match but don’t provide an incentive to move to the next status level actually chase customers away. Giving someone Gold status but no 25,000 qualifying miles to go to Platinum is a missed opportunity to get them to the next level.

However, most airlines do a poor job with status programs. It takes too long to respond – the customer sends a statement and a copy of the card and then waits a few weeks for a response. If an important customer raises his hand and says he wants to give up future business, it’s a bad idea to wait a few weeks to get back in touch.

Newer and smaller programs benefit more from twinning than from challenges.

Frontier Airlines’ recent status adjustment is an example of one of his team’s offerings. While he enjoys the challenges of many programs, newer programs or those without extensive partnerships and lounges may not offer as much and do not have built-in costs for the products they offer (such as the lounge network). Customers prefer direct mail, but it can be expensive if customers only use it to access waiting rooms.

Who pays for access to airport lounges when you simultaneously visit a discount lounge?

Regarding the cost of lounge access for status customers, Mr. Ross-Smith pointed out the cost of “cheating” on lounge access, according to airline agreements.

The co-founder of the Loyalty Security Association, who conducted the interview, indicated that the cost of the lounge visit is “generally [incurred] by the airline in service” and not as part of the frequent flyer program (i.e., the lounge visit of elite U.S. airlines does not mean that LATAM is asked to pay for the visit).

However, Mr. Ross-Smith noted that there are limits to the award of status – for example, if an airline submits a lot of correspondence or other requests for status, there may be invoices.

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How people fake their credentials to fit their status, and how programs have begun to address this phenomenon

It is easy to photograph elite cards and edit member summaries, take a screenshot or use the . pdf editing program. StatusMatch.com reports that it tests for forgeries in several programs and has a 100% success rate for editing documents. Some have a higher status than the member. Others take an elite member’s ID card and change their name. Or they add an airline or hotel activity to meet the minimum requirements of the program.

StatusMatch.com verifies the authenticity of the documents. They check fonts, image quality and even file names (believe it or not, sometimes people name their files “delta screen shot copy version 2 edited.png” and then click submit).

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When Frontier was running, match data was compared to Frontier’s blacklist, its own global status match lists, subscriber views in the approved region (IP verification), VPN verification, proxy network usage, and historical applications. In addition, in some cases, status updates were processed in as little as 2 minutes so as not to slow down the process, as timely status transfer is critical to bringing in customers.

It is interesting to note that the more status match campaigns there are, the more they let you know which competitors are part of the match chains (think Best Western – Wyndham – Caesars – MGM – Hyatt) and can block a match.

This type of data sharing is not new, but having everything in one place is. Sometimes United Airlines asks a competitor to confirm your elite status when you request a match and United Airlines shares the information for the same purpose. They may think it is better for them to stop the fraud than to help a competitor steal their customers, and vice versa. Hyatt and Starwood Hotels entered into a similar agreement just over a decade ago.

Of course, there are other ways to cheat on status. Mr. Ross-Smith reports that he conducted a test with two oneworld airlines and found that frequent flyer numbers can be used without matching names: just put another person’s elite number on another passenger’s reservation and fly with that person’s status (while helping him earn miles).

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