Aeroplan: 30 years of loyalty

SPONSORED CONTENT: Aeroplan's Chris Willoughby

image001Today, loyalty programs feel like a ubiquitous part of our consumer marketing efforts. Rewarding customers for their loyalty and leveraging the data that’s collected as part of these interactions as a means to build real relationships is quickly gaining ground with brands.

The loyalty industry has evolved significantly to get to this point – we know this well as Aeroplan celebrates its 30th anniversary this year.

As many of us can attest, entering into your 30s can often be a time of reflection – both looking back on what you’ve learned and looking forward towards what you want to accomplish next. This has held true for Aeroplan as we enter into a new decade. Below are a few lessons learned, and specific examples of how the program has adapted to better reflect changing consumer expectations.

But first, a quick recap of our history

The program made its debut to Canadians as a frequent flyer program in 1984 – a promotional tool for Air Canada’s business travelers. Fast forward 30 years and Aeroplan now has more than 4.8 million members who can earn Aeroplan Miles with a growing network of over 75 world-class partners, representing more than 150 brands in the financial, retail, and travel sectors. Our members have accumulated approximately 1.3 trillion miles and redeemed for more than 19 million seats to over 1,300 destinations worldwide since the program’s inception.

The transformation of the program over the years, including some significant changes we made just this year, have been based on and have supplied many opportunities for learning – here a just a few..


With every major airline having a frequent flyer program in some shape or form, collecting miles or points when flying has become a basic consumer expectation. People want to feel they are getting good value and their perception of this can drive their satisfaction with a program and the airline brand. We’ve responded by continuing to give members more value than expected. For example, in the summer of 2013, Aeroplan announced new Market Fare Flight Rewards to replace ClassicPlus Flight Rewards, offering significantly improved value for members. Market Fare Flight Rewards require on average of 20% less miles. Aeroplan also set out to provide unparalleled access to business class redemptions so that more members can redeem for an enhanced travel experience.

This also means addressing what could be diminishing the customer experience. Based on member feedback, the program eliminated its seven-year mileage redemption policy and no longer expires Aeroplan Miles for members active in the program each year.


Some of the most effective loyalty programs today offer graduated rewards and benefits, so the more customers are active with the program, the more they are recognized. This tiering structure helps to reward the best, most profitable clients or customers. For example, Aeroplan launched Distinction in early 2014, a tiered recognition program whereby Aeroplan’s top accumulating members gain additional recognition and benefits. The introduction has been a big hit with members who are rewarded for their loyalty with up to 50% fewer miles required on any seat with Market Fare flight rewards, exclusive bonus offers and privileges.


Giving consumers unique and memorable experiences can help your brand stand out in a crowded market. Even better, it can also help create advocates for your brand – which is ever more valuable in this shareable age.

We marked the launch of our Distinction program with a large-scale event in Dundas Square, in the heart of downtown Toronto, in which we gave away a free trip to a dream destination every 5 minutes for 1 hour. Dundas Square was filled to capacity with 12,000 people. The contest had over 8,400 entries in only two hours, of which 66% were Aeroplan Members. In just two days, we were able to reach 40 to 50% of the Toronto population. The digital campaign generated over 6.6 million impressions and traffic on the Distinction website increased 400% during the event.

Just recently we also launched dExclusives as part of the Distinction program. Aeroplan Distinction members can bid, using their Aeroplan Miles, on a wide variety of one-of-a-kind rewards specially designed around member interests. Some of the most popular items that have generated the most interest and social media buzz include: once-in-a-lifetime trips such as a trip to the World soccer championships in Brazil, and weekend getaways, such as a trip to the 2014 Golf Championships in Louisville or a wine-tasting weekend in Napa Valley. Amazing tickets to some of the best events in town such as sold-out concerts or exclusive access to sporting events are also very popular, in addition to our “money can’t buy” items – highly coveted items such as a customized guitar signed by The Lumineers, or signed sports memorabilia like PK Subban’s autographed Team Canada Olympic jersey from Sochi.


We all know how impactful it can be when we surprise and delight the customer. To do this effectively you need to create a two way dialogue with your valued customers and then also, through the use of permission based data analytics, create ways to show them that you know them as an individual and that you value them.

Delighting members in rare and personal ways helps Aeroplan and its partners build real relationships with members. Through the use of member data, Aeroplan recently sent a communication to more than 600,000 of its members celebrating their milestones with the program. The member communication was a highly personalized message that charted the member’s own personal journey with Aeroplan over the last ten years, including where they earned their miles and what they did with them. This campaign allowed Aeroplan to demonstrate the value and unique proposition Aeroplan brings for each member. It also helped to drive member engagement and encourage members to share their Aeroplan travel story with friends and family online. Thirty-three per cent of members who received the email said it changed their perception of Aeroplan for the better. The campaign was so successful that members who didn’t receive an email were actually calling Aeroplan to ask if they could receive their own milestones communication.

It’s clear a lot has changed in loyalty since 1984 and that the rate of change will only intensify as we look ahead. The increasing digitization of nearly every aspect of modern consumer life and the resulting proliferation of data has profound implications for our industry. That said, I think all of the lessons learned above will still apply.

Aeroplan, Canada’s premier coalition loyalty program, is owned by Aimia Inc., a global leader in loyalty management.

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