Whether you are aware of it or not, there are so many contributing factors that guide us in our decision making processes, and our choice of airline is no different. When comparing Airline A with Airline B, what are the key factors that win our loyalty given that they more or less serve the same core function of getting us from one place to another? Well, it comes down to a handful of factors. If you are on the fence, let’s outline the factors to consider when making your choice, and if you already advocate for a particular airline, let’s see if we can unpack why you have arrived there and what other facts you could be using to validate or debunk your choice.
Brand reputation informs our decisions, which is why we buy products from companies that echo our own values and mirror our own beliefs. When it comes to an airline, we aren’t talking about the branding and uniform of the aircrew (although that can be a passive benefit), it’s much deeper. Loyalties have been won and lost when airlines are involved in topical events, such as Israel Folau losing his job after posting homophobic content on social media, and Qantas not standing for that behaviour as a sponsor of Rugby Australia. Despite employment lawyer, Alan McDonald, believing that Qantas’ conduct could make them liable, they arguably acted in the interest of their reputation instead. A dicey move, but perhaps this has swayed your faith in Qantas?
As we delve deeper into a hyper-aware social climate, consumers don’t want their brands to sit on the fence but to stand up for the values and injustices they see in the market. It’s not just because the consumer has all the power and can drive the narrative, it’s about airline brands wanting to be a part of the social discourse and make their own contribution to a social justice issue. The Israel Folau case is an example of Qantas going against the legal course of action, according to McDonald Murholme, in favour of not supporting actions they believe to be out of step with their own values and those of their audience.
Loyalty benefit programs
Now that we have covered the social factors, we need to highlight the commercial ones as loyalty benefits programs are very important to a great number of Australians. The trouble is, it’s not as easy as comparing frequent flyer programs against one another, as they are not made equal and appeal to different areas of our lives and needs. We understandably will support the airline that looks after our unique priorities, so let’s familiarise ourselves with what benefits are available and which participating airlines are noted to have some of the best programs. Qantas is tied to Woolworths and Virgin is tied to Coles, and both airlines have their own credit card programs that enjoy discounts on flights and amenities respectively. These alliances might assist in your choice of airline. Hotel chains, hire car companies and retail discounts are other factors also.
Some considerations that hide in the fine print would be that points can expire, making some loyalty programs only viable if you can accumulate and redeem within the stipulated window. For many flyers, these expiry windows mean that earned points don’t turn into real, tangible benefits. Despite the attractive options and status’ that we aspire to reach through points, the research has shown that the best value (based on likeliness to redeem) is to use points for in-flight upgrades. Corporate travellers are most likely to get value due to the volume of travel (both in the points received and the status benefits), so if you are a leisure traveller you may want to be guided by price over ‘benefit’ if the latter is less likely to eventuate.
Price and offering
Most Australians could easily illustrate an org chart of the airlines, with all of them clearly forging their position in the market through price and their offering. We know that a Tiger flight will be the most affordable, but we know that Virgin will serve breakfast on the flight and will come with some extra legroom. Price and offering will likely be a huge driving force in the airline selection you make, and it all comes down to your value proposition. If you travel back to your home state at many points throughout the year, you might want to choose the affordable option due to the volume of travel. That said, you could argue that lots of travel would have you choosing the more premium option due to the time you spend on flights during the year. Weigh up your options and identify whether price or experience is more important to you and your decision-making process. Hot tip: it usually takes only one unpleasant flight to make those priorities pretty clear.
Delay and cancellation rates
Flight delays and cancellations are an unfortunate fact of flying, but there is an undeniable correlation between some airlines and a higher delay and cancellation rate. There is also the matter of how these delays and cancellations are handled – how seamless is this procedure and what steps are taken to avoid or compensate? When you book a flight, familiarise yourself with the airline’s policies on cancellations, compensations, flight time changes and what their flight schedule is like each day and the probability of you being able to switch your flight to or earlier time. If you get to the bottom of people’s airline preferences, it is typically related to a past experience of enduring a cancellation or delay, so arm yourself with the facts and next steps should this occur when you fly.
Over our lifetime, we have so many big and small experiences that colour our preferences for one airline over the other. If you are choosing an airline for your upcoming holiday or wanting to make a switch for your work travel – weigh these considerations, and see where you land with the options on hand. Another way to think about it is – what is this airline doing for you?