Airlines Are Unlocking New Value In Their Frequent Flier Programs

February 26, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

Reversing the direction of what we’ve seen recently in frequent flyer programs, Business Insider says that airlines are now finding value in their frequent flyer programs.

The recent trend has been for airlines to find ways to deny privileges to customers involved in frequent flyer programs (such as putting a stop to mileage runs). That trend probably isn’t going to change, but airlines are finding ways to monetize these programs in a way that, so far, doesn’t seem to be of much benefit to travelers themselves.

Multiple racks of servers

If you’re using Big Data, you need some Big Servers. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Getting on board the Big Data bandwagon, airlines have started harvesting and selling the data they’ve gathered about their frequent flyers. They’re selling this data to a variety of sources; Business Insider lists credit card providers, rental car companies, and hotels.

This data is so valuable, Air Berlin recently sold a stake in its frequent flyer program for more than what the entire Air Berlin corporation was valued at.

“It’s extremely powerful data, especially as it tends to be slanted towards the premium segment,” said Marc Allsop, senior vice president and head of global business development at Aimia.

In other words, frequent flyers tend to be very desirable customers. Anyone who travels enough to rack up that many miles tends to have money to spare, even when the person’s travel is on the company’s dime.

Plus, the information being harvested isn’t just related to facts about the person. It can potentially include details about recent trips a particular person has taken.

How do you feel about your frequent flyer information being harvested and sold to a third party? Leave us a comment to let us know if that sounds just fine to you or if you’d prefer to go back to the days when your data was just between you and your airline.

Use Your Smartphone As Your Hotel Key

February 19, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

For weary travelers, even the tiniest road block can seem exhausting and annoying. In an attempt to smooth things out for their guests, Starwood Hotels and Resorts now gives guests the option of skipping check-in and using their smartphones as their hotel keys. Hilton is also planning on rolling out a similar scheme later this year.

The phone as room key may be a bit more complicated than it sounds though. Starwood has only rolled out the feature in one hotel so far, with plans to include it in more hotels later this year. There’s a lot of technological behind-the-scenes work that goes into making this work, such as replacing the current locks with new ones, and making sure the steps are in place so guests don’t accidentally unlock their doors.

English: Windows Phone 7 powered LG Panther(GW...

Windows Phone 7 powered LG Panther(GW910), Prototype smartphone for developers. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Plus, this only works with one phone per room, so if more than one guest is staying in the room, one of them gets to use their phone, the other(s) will use a normal room key.

In this case, hotels see many reasons to go the extra mile to make checking in easier. They’re hoping that getting guests comfortable with using their phones for hotel-related activities will ease the guests into using other hotel apps. Future wish-list items include allowing guests to order drinks while sitting poolside, book spa packages, and order expensive room service, all with a mobile app.

Of course, a lot of hotels have begun to roll out the ability to check in via your phone. You can get all the red tape out of the way while you’re in the cab, and then just pick up your old fashioned hotel key on your way to your room.

What are some things you would like to be able to do at a hotel with your smartphone? Leave a comment below and let us hear from you.

Virgin Atlantic Launches Wearable Tech Trial at Heathrow

September 11, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

Wearable technology — fitness bands, health monitoring devices, Google Glass, and even garments that light up when your phone rings — is beginning to appear in business settings like airports. Instead of wearable technology being solely used as a consumer device, staffers are in the early testing stages of using it to help them do their jobs better. Airports have talked about using wearable technology in the past, but it finally took off (pardon the pun) when the airline, Virgin Atlantic, tested out Google Glass and the Sony Smartwatch at London-Heathrow Airport in the Upper Class Wing.

Virgin Airline's MollyThe technology was used to create a more customized customer service for passengers. Google Glass was used to identify passengers through facial recognition, while Sony Smartwatches were used to increase efficiency of passing along information instead of referring to paperwork.

Virgin Atlantic’s findings were presented at FTE Europe 2014. Although the trial lasted only six weeks, preliminary results were positive. The goal was to simplify the airport experience and reduce the amount of paperwork for the staff and passengers.

The only problem they discovered involved the reliability of connectivity, which they decided could be resolved by increasing wifi signals and using Bluetooth (something most travelers would love to see as well).

Right now, using wearable technology in airports is only in the testing phase, but as more airlines like Virgin Atlantic take the plunge and embrace the future, we may see wearable technology in the airport world quickly, and hopefully seamlessly.


Photo credit: Peter Russell (Flickr, Creative Commons)

London Stansted Airport Begins Using Smart Access Security Gates

June 19, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

London Stansted Airport is pioneering new technology to the airline industry by introducing smart access security gates in its terminals. At London’s third busiest airport just 30 miles northeast of the city center, the new smart access security gates will be able to scan boarding cards, passports and identification cards.

The gates will serve as an extra level of security, by correctly identifying flight passengers and also assist the boarding process by removing the hassles commonly involved with current boarding systems. Less hassle means less time and greater efficiency for the passenger, the airline, security personnel and the airport.

If the tests are successful, there is a good chance the new technology will be adopted by other airports around the globe. At the current rate of technological evolution, the creators believe it will be more affordable within the coming years. And with London Stansted creating the blueprint, other airports will be able to more easily adopt it just by following Stansted’s lead.

The goal of introducing smart access security gates is to improve the passenger experience by automating as much of the boarding process as possible. Customer service agents will still be available to assist customers, but they won’t be tied down with the mundane chores that can be done more efficiently through technology. They will be available to solve real customer problems, instead of printing and collecting boarding passes and checking the customer’s ID multiple times.

While some people may have security concerns about the automated system, we know from our work in the industry that airport officials wouldn’t just adopt new technology if they weren’t convinced of its effectiveness and safety. The fact that they’re considering it at all makes us believe they have a lot of the bugs worked out. If they weren’t convinced, they wouldn’t even try it out on a small scale because the risk is too high.

As a result, we believe this is going to be part of the coming wave of gate and ticketing automation that will result in faster and more pleasant flying experiences for airline customers’ everywhere.

Will Airlines Use Customization For Good Or Evil?

April 29, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

On the horizon for the airline industry: customizable fares.

A little further out on the horizon: angry passengers.

The airline industry is developing technology that will allow them to create a customized airplane fare for you — and only you — using personal information such as gender, marital status, and how often you fly. This information will enter an algorithm that will decide the fare amount you are required to pay. already uses a similar tool which suggests items for you to purchase based on your browsing and previous purchase history.


AA MD80 (Photo credit: Blue Pylons)

Advocates of this method argue that this change will give the travelers more control. In theory, travelers will be able to visit the website of a travel agency, set the desired travel locations and select the airline with the most affordable price. Travelers would also be able to check for other options, such as wireless Internet, and view any extra fees that may be attached to any trip.

The idea of a fare customization has been greeted with skepticism. Opponents of the proposed change argue this is nothing more than a marketing ploy. They worry that by giving away so much personal information, the airline industry could easily check on your credit history and income information. Instead of giving you the cheapest fare based on what you need, they could use that information to determine how much you could afford to pay. Individuals with more disposable income could be charged much more for a flight than the person seated next to them. And without knowing the formula used to set the price, there’s no true way to know who is getting charged fairly and who is being overcharged.

There is no need for immediate concern; the technology for customizable airfares is still in the development phases, years away from actually being implemented. However, the idea still raises a few eyebrows from those who are concerned with how their personal information is being used by major corporations. In the end, it is not the technology that we can call “good” or “evil,” but the intent behind the way it is used.

How Can Airports and Airlines Use Wearable Technology To Enhance Passenger Experience?

April 22, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

Today’s travelers are more connected to technology than ever before. From smartphones that stay glued to our hands, to smart watches such as the Pebble and Samsung Gear, and even to what we see with Google Glass, the modern traveler is permanently intertwined with tech. So how can airlines use this technology to create a better passenger experience? Here are a few predictions we can make based on what we’ve seen.

English: Photo of a mobile boarding pass (a 2D...

English: Photo of a mobile boarding pass (a 2D Aztec code bar code on an Orange San Francisco smart phone) on top of a paper boarding pass, printed after online check-in, for a KLM flight. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The easiest way to improve a positive passenger experience is to get rid of the boarding pass. This old paper relic from the past can be replaced by an app that lets you check in to your flight. Most major airlines already have this kind of app, and we think in a few years, the digital boarding pass will become the standard, and the paper version will be used less and less. This could drastically improve the speed of checking in for your flight and shorten the amount of time wasted at the airport, creating happier travelers. Also, think of the elimination of paper from an environmental perspective across all the world’s airports.

Google Glass can be incredibly effective when traveling, especially for those inexperienced air travelers. The front display can act as a GPS device that actually directs you to your gate, as well as provide real-time updates of the flight status. And whereas you are liable to run into others around you when looking down at a smartphone or watch, that will not be an issue with Glass. Because the information is presented directly above your field of vision, you will not have to worry about trampling, or being trampled by, other travelers.

Or how about using your mobile phone to pay for your meals and snacks at the airport? Rather than carrying credit cards, many people in Kenya and other parts of Africa use the M-Pesa mobile payment system on their phones. And not just smartphones, but regular flip phones as well. Google Wallet is already making inroads into this area of tech, and we think it may become a standard form of payment in the near future.

All of this technology is a few years away from being implemented but once it is up and running, it can be used as a stepping stone to promote the convenience of the passenger. Soon afterwards, biometric data, such as finger and iris prints, can be utilized to identify passengers. Security officers could use tools similar to Glass to increase security measures.

The entire travel industry could be completely disrupted with this new technology. What are your thoughts about this “brave new world” of travel?

How Will NFC, Biometrics and Wearable Tech Affect Travel?

April 17, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

If a group of people traveled twenty years into the future, from 1994 to today, and saw the amount of commercial technology available, they would be staggered at the sheer connectivity we enjoy. We have portable computers and tablets, sports bands that monitors our heartbeats, and mobile phones that we use for everything except for making calls. We may not be living in the age of the Jetsons, but we’re getting close.

And we’re continuing to advance, thanks to a group of people who specialize in “outcome-focused thinking,” or thinking that creates ideas without worrying of positive or negative consequences.

At Walt Disney World, biometric measurements a...

At Walt Disney World, biometric measurements are taken from the fingers of guests to ensure that the person’s ticket is used by the same person from day to day (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This raises the question, where are we going next? According to Rob Girling, the co-founder of the Artefact Group and one of the more prominent outcome-focused thinkers, he sees technology moving towards three directions.

  • Near Field Communication (NFC): NFC will play a large role in the future of wearable technology. NFC, when partnered with wearable devices, will function as a form of identification, allowing the wearer to create checkpoints at restaurants, make payments and unlock certain secure areas.
  • Biometrics: In some ways, biometric data (iris pattern, thumbprint, heart beat) is almost like NFC technology. Biometric sensors can be placed in hotels or airports for security purposes, and will only respond to a specific individual’s biometric data. Think unlocking a door with your finger print or identifying yourself on a plane ride with an eye scan. We’re already seeing this with the iPhone 5’s thumbprint scanner.
  • Natural Language Processing: As impressive as NFC and biometrics sound on paper, natural language processing may be the most promising and useful advancement in technology. NLP will allow your device to actually follow through with a complicated task and execute a complex search query, such as finding the cheapest price for a car rental. Asking SIRI to set a reminder is simply the first step on the NLP ladder.

So what does this mean for the travel industry? In some ways, traveling will become a lot easier. Imagine wearing NFC tech that you can wave at a security checkpoint or can use to make payments with your phone.

Biometrics are already being used in some office security protocols, such as a thumbprint scanner for a computer, or even Dublin Airport in Ireland using an automated passport scanner for immigration checks.

And you can already use Siri or any number of Android personal assistants to find nearby restaurants, gas stations, and tourist attractions. How much longer before you say, “Siri, rent a car for me”?

Outcome-focused thinking is already making itself felt in the travel industry. The next 20 years will be interesting, and we’re looking forward to seeing what that time is going to bring.

Wearable Technology Improves Travel

March 27, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

Wearable technology is having a positive impact on the travel industry, both for travelers and for people who work in the business. We recently read an article by Future Travel Experience about rising trends in wearable tech and what it’s doing for travelers, and that got us to thinking about what we could see wearable tech do in the future.

Wearable tech is basically any kind of technology you can wear on your body. Whether it’s a Google Smartwatch — think Dick Tracy’s phone watch — or Google Glass, the computer glasses, or even the FitBit, Jawbone, or Nike FuelBand fitness tracker bands, wearable tech is already making its way into the mainstream, which means travelers are already using it.

One idea the FTE article mentioned was for airport agents to use Google Glass as a way to scan passports and check boarding passes. If you’ve ever stood in a passport line, you know it can take a very long time to get through the process. But Google Glass could shorten the process, getting it down to a single second per traveler. That would speed up the passport check line greatly, improving the experience of international travel.

Or how about getting notified of your flight’s status on your Google Smartwatch? Receive a text or email on your watch, rather than fussing with your phone. You can even connect your Bluetooth earpiece to the Smartwatch and call your travel agent or the airline customer support line if you have problems with your flight.

The famous 2-Way Wrist Radio

The famous 2-Way Wrist Radio (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you like to exercise, how about using your exercise device as a way to measure your walking during travel days? If you arrive early enough at the airport, or have a long layover, take some time to stroll around the airport rather than sitting at the gate for three hours. While it may not be your usual morning run, it’s at least a way to keep moving and get some exercise in. Use your FitBit as a way to track your steps, distance walked, and even calories burned.

As more people are embracing wearable technology, we may see it become a regular part of air travel, whether it’s the travelers who are wearing them, or the airport and airline professionals. The technology can ultimately be used to help improve the airport experience, which is something many airport designers are already doing.

How are you using technology in your own travels? Are there any items on your travel tech wish list? Leave us a comment or discuss it on our Facebook page. (Bonus points if you answer it from your smartphone from an airplane or airport.)

New Technology Changing the Future of Airports

March 25, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

Many airports are undergoing major technology changes and updates throughout the country, beyond just adding new electrical outlets and USB ports at different gates (although that’s very important). Airports are getting new looks and brand new technology that can make the time we spend waiting for our planes easier and more pleasurable.

According to a recent article on the (FTE) blog, the Bradley West Terminal at LAX is getting new digital technology, including screens and interactive devices, as well as adding outlets for almost every other chair. (We told you it was important). Users can even interact with digital screens via their own mobile phone or tablet. The retrofit took five years, and is using the latest technology to improve travelers’ gate experience (in fact, they won an award for “Best Experience at the Gate”.

The theme restaurant and control tower at Los ...

The theme restaurant and control tower at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The technology often changed faster than the installations were going in. Curtis Fentress Principal-in-Charge of Design at Fentress Architects told FTE, “We’ve been working on (the LAX) project for around five years and we’ve made changes on the fly throughout that time.”

Fentress is also working to create a “sense of place” for airports, something his firm did for the Denver International Airport in 1995. Now, architects around the world are all re-imagining their airports so the design and style will be appropriate for their particular cities, not just through appearance, but in functionality as well.

Fentress even told FTE to start watching for materials that can clean and repair themselves. “Things like self-repairing materials, self-cleaning glass and self-cleaning carpets are wonderful concepts and it’s true that all of them are being developed.”

The end result is that airports will no longer be a place we have to endure, avoid, or complain about. They’re becoming more functional and more pleasurable to spend time in. While airports will never be as comfortable as your home or office, they can at least be an enjoyable part of your travels.

Four Major Trends In Air Travel by 2015

April 9, 2013 by · 1 Comment 

Over the next several years, it is expected that technological innovation will change the way many of us behave when we travel by air. In a recent report, SITA, a travel communications and IT solutions company, discussed several ways they believe air travel will change over the next two years. Based on our own experiences with business travel and social media growth, we agree with their ideas.

1. Web and mobile will be the way most people buy tickets and check-in. Now smartphones are commonplace, it is expected that even more customers will use mobile devices to make travel arrangements. It is also becoming an expectation that airlines and travel companies offer apps that can alert customers when flights fall below a certain price point.

Day 1: people with cell phones

People with cell phones (Photo credit: p2-r2)

2. Customers will do more things themselves. For example, it is expected that by 2015, 90% of airlines will offer mobile check-ins and flight updates via smartphone apps (as opposed to 50% today). Self-service will become the norm, as opposed to waiting in long lines for an airline staff member behind the counter to help you.

3. Smartphones and social media will dominate how customer service is delivered. It is expected that by 2015, 9 out of 10 airlines and airports will offer mobile updates on flight arrivals, delays, weather, parking, and even the location and nightly rates of nearby hotels. Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and other social media sites will be crucial in customer interaction. Apps that help travelers plan their journey from the airport to their hotel will also become more commonly used.

4. Business intelligence metrics will be more commonly used by airports and airlines. Airports and airlines are realizing that they are first and foremost in the business of customer service, and customer loyalty is of key importance to their success. In order to keep travelers returning, airports and airlines are now determining how to shape loyalty programs and how to become more engaged with their customers.

Higher quality customer service and amenities will also be important differentiators. In a world where bad news or a customer service horror story can go viral in an instant, top-notch customer service and amenities will become crucial to the success of any airline or airport.

As the world becomes more mobile and social, air travel companies will now more than ever before use social media and technology to shape customer experiences and respond to customer needs.

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