United Airlines announced a benefits program for corporate customers. It is akin to a corporate recognition program Delta created in 2014 and recently expanded to cover joint venture partner Air France-KLM.
United Corporate Preferred gives priority to eligible travelers for upgrades, reaccommodation and standby space. Those in the highest of three tiers get extra schedule flexibility when it comes to weather waivers. The top tier later this year also will enjoy preferred boarding and seat selection. An account’s revenue contribution and contract performance determine its tier.
United senior vice president of worldwide sales Jake Cefolia said the program would help the airline “be sticky” with its corporate accounts. Especially in the midmarket, he said, “travel managers are under pressure to show value beyond” negotiated airfare discounts.
“It is not just about dollars and cents, but also experience,” Cefolia said last week during a discussion with The Company Dime in San Diego. “It is important in a tight labor market because people do make decisions related to travel friction.”
Cefolia said United is considering how to calculate and report the value of Corporate Preferred benefits. For example, what is it worth to know you’ll board the airplane early, find overhead bin space and avoid checking bags? United already provides soft-dollar reporting through the Jetstream portal.
Asked what customers requested but didn’t get in the program, Cefolia pointed to discounts for their travelers’ leisure bookings. “We are exploring potentially a United Vacations discount offering,” he said. “We are still working on it. We saw it as a nice to have more than a need to have.”
Southwest Airlines officials had a similar view of that perk. “We get requests,” said senior director of corporate sales Matt Smith. “It’s not part of our program. We need to work closely with the marketing department to meet the needs of different roles of the traveler. Take Salesforce, for example. One of their top priorities is employee satisfaction not just for business travel but for all travel, so there are things we are starting to think creatively about in terms of how to meet that need.”
To receive benefits as part of United’s program, travelers must book flights operated by United or United Express.
That’s where Delta stayed a step ahead. The airline announced that its Corporate Priority program would extend to bookings with and flights operated by Air France-KLM, starting in the fourth quarter. The program includes priority seat selection, boarding and service recovery during irregular operations.
“Customers told us that seams between alliance partners is what we should focus on,” said Delta SVP of global sales Bob Somers. “We see alliances as a differentiator. The contract is the underpinning, but how do we create non-transactional value in the tools we provide to take the customer experience to a new level?”
Delta is looking to further expand Corporate Priority by bringing in more alliance partners.
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