Air Canada Business class

Air Canada launches online content hub for frequent flyers

Airline courting premium brands for new site

Air Canada has launched an exclusive online content hub for members of its frequent flyer club, Air Canada Altitude.

Developed in tandem with its content marketing agency Spafax, the Air Canada Altitude Community is intended to deepen the relationship between the airline and its frequent flyers, said director of loyalty marketing Ian Di Tullio.

The community debuts this week after being in test mode with a small group of 100 users for the past three weeks. More than 70 of those people signed up for the community within 48 hours of the test phase’s conclusion.

Air Canada and Spafax will continue to tinker with the hub’s functionality based on user feedback. “We’re very much still in listening mode, and the community will evolve over the next few months as we get feedback,” said Di Tullio.

While there are numerous travel-related recommendation sites, Di Tullio said they tend to have a narrow focus on categories like hotels and restaurants, and typically don’t boast the insider knowledge of frequent travelers.

“Instead of trying to reinvent a Trip Advisor or a Yelp or anything like that, we wanted to create something really small to start that didn’t box them in to any kind of category…it’s really a “best of” in cities of their choice,” he said.

The Air Canada Altitude Community, for example, features user-created lists such as “The best places to run in San Francisco” or “The best oyster bars in London.”

It will also feature “Guest Lists” from high profile Altitude members such as celebrity chef Chuck Hughes and style maven Jeanne Beker (whose “The best gift shops in the world” content piece is currently on the site).

The content is currently a blend of Spafax-created and user-generated, but Di Tullio said the ultimate objective is to have “90-99%” of the content supplied by Altitude members.

Air Canada and Spafax have also added a gaming element to the community, with awards such as the Tastemaker Badge (awarded for receiving 1,000 likes on a list) and Shout Out Badge (awarded when members post a list you created to one of their social networks). Awards will also be accompanied by travel-related and bonus Aeroplan miles.

A recent report from Forrester predicted that branded communities would be a key driver for social media marketing in 2015, thanks to their ability to cement customer relationships and drive greater brand reach.

Air Canada Altitude was conceived about two years ago, when the airline set out to restructure and rebrand the former Air Canada Top Tier Program. During the process it conducted research to determine which benefits customers liked and wanted, as well as what the program did and didn’t do well.

“We discovered that one of the things that was missing was the capacity for people to connect,” said Di Tullio. “They said ‘We fly all the time and bump into each other once in a while, but there’s really no way for us to build a rapport with other frequent flyers that have a ton of experience.’”

The ultimate objective is to engage half of all Altitude members in the online community, though Di Tullio said 20% in the near-term would be an “incredible achievement.”

Di Tullio wouldn’t disclose how many members are in Air Canada Altitude, but said they over-index in key areas such as household income and education level.

He called it a “naturally qualified” audience for the premium brands that Air Canada and Spafax (which is handling ad sales) will be pursuing. “These are prime candidates for any brand to interact with, and the key in terms of value proposition is not that we’re going to open up for anybody to access these people. We really want to interact with premium brands.”

Ad units on the site will include banners as well as sponsored lists. Di Tullio cited a luxury automaker as a natural sponsor for a list of best coastal drives near San Francisco, for example. “This thing’s got a ton of legs in that sense,” he said.

Spafax is selling the online community in a bundle with its tactical Altitude e-statements and newsletters. Di Tullio said there has been a “huge push” by advertisers to access the properties.


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