Same Airlines, Changing Business Models

If you hang around this industry long enough, you see changes come and go and come again. It is just one of those things you start to figure out as you listen to clients and experts.

The latest one I am hearing is how the airlines treat their corporate clients. Now, I am not talking about the business travelers; I am talking about the big companies that work deals directly with the airlines for their travelers.

I can recall back in the 1990s when my relationship with United was pretty special, and they treated my corporate travelers with a lot of love: upgrades to first class, waivers for changes and a lot of upgrades to higher status on their frequent-flyer programs. In contrast, Delta Air Lines was not so loving. Everything was a painful request.

So let's jump to today. To their credit, the airlines have gotten a lot better about what they give out and why. FF status upgrades? Not so easy. First-class upgrades? Get in line.

But I also think there are changes in the airlines that evolve as a result of market conditions, corporate strategy or they have just become better at choosing who they want to dance with.

Take United. I have heard that many clients are not very happy with them. What they used to do with regard to favors, they no longer do. They have tightened the belt. Now Delta has become a lot more corporate-friendly. They are giving not only discounts; they are giving more intangibles as well. They are trying to be as accomodating as possible.

I think what will happen in the marketplace with American and US Airways will be more of a Delta Model. They are going to pursue corporate clients with more passion, and lure them away from the dark side. If they succeed in getting United customers to come to their side, we most likely will see a shift once again.

So for all you corporate travel professonals out there, the key is to keep your program flexible and always moving forward. You never know who you might be dancing with next.

This post was republished with permission from the blog of Topaz International CEO Brad Seitz.