Last updated: 02:00 PM ET, Mon February 29 2016

Which Airlines Inspire the Most Brand Loyalty?

Airlines & Airports | Josh Lew | February 29, 2016

Which Airlines Inspire the Most Brand Loyalty?

Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

The Brand Keys Customer Loyalty Engagement Index measures how strongly people feel about the service and/or quality that they get from certain brands and how likely they are to use the brands in the future (brand loyalty). 

Airlines got their latest index earlier this month, and there was a surprising amount of movement in the rankings compared to last year. 

Brand Keys CEO Robert Passikoff explains what the rankings mean for airlines: “The category is driven by airlines that help ease the effort of travel, whether it’s for business or pleasure. It just goes to show how snacks and an apparent concern for the traveler go a long way.”

The loyalty survey covers major North American airlines. Last year, the favorite airline amongst travelers was Air Canada. This year, JetBlue took over the top spot, with the Canadian flag carrier falling to second place. Delta and United both rose in this year's rankings compared to 2015, earning the third and fourth spots respectively. Last year, Delta was fifth and United was eight (out of eight airlines). This year, Westjet, Southwest and American airlines brought up the rear. 

READ MORE: Study Unveils Secret Recipe To Booming Travel Business

Only seven airlines qualified for this year’s Brand Keys airline report. This is because the research firm needs a certain number of survey responses in order to get an accurate picture of brand loyalty for a particular airline. 

Why was JetBlue on the top this year? The low-cost carrier now charges for checked baggage for people who buy standard Blue fares. However, the $20-$25 fee is waived for the more-premium Blue Plus, Blue Flex and Mint fares. JetBlue does have free internet access, a rarity amongst North American carriers. That may have played a major role in this year’s shift in the rankings. Southwest, which charges for Wi-Fi (but not for checked bags), dropped from third in 2015 to fifth this year. 

As Passikoff pointed out, little things do matter. Delta had the highest ranking of the U.S. legacy carriers. It was the only one of its peers to never cut snacks from its in-flight service, and in fact has developed a reputation for offering a number of different fare choices on the same flights. This is something that is still in the works for the other legacy airlines. 

READ MORE: The Rapidly Changing World of In-Flight Entertainment

As you might expect, frequent flyer programs are a part of the brand loyalty equation. These have changed over the past year, with airlines moving from a miles-based rewards program to a spending-based rewards program (passengers get rewards points based on how much they spend, not how many miles they fly). JetBlue has had this kind of rewards scheme for a while now, but it does not seem to have hurt its brand loyalty. Perhaps this shows that fliers aren’t as opposed to the switch to dollar-based rewards as most people thought. Perhaps passengers think it is fairer if there is no way to game the system and earn more points with fewer miles.  

Mostly though, the results of the latest Brand Keys airline survey show that airlines can still compete on something other than price. This is good news for legacy carriers and established LCCs, and bad news for ultra-budget airlines that are lacking in customer service, but provide the lowest fares. 


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