Irish Ryanair extends charm offensive with loyalty rewards



DUBLIN/ Reuters

Ryanair is all set to launch its first loyalty scheme in decades, introduce customer satisfaction surveys and allow “one-tap” upgrades using mobile phones as it extends its efforts to rid itself of a reputation for poor service.
The Irish low-cost airline, Europe’s largest by passenger numbers, has seen profits and passenger numbers soar since Chief Executive Michael O’Leary announced in 2014 that he would stop “unnecessarily pissing off” his customers.
Since then the airline has slashed punitive fees for checking in bags and rolled out pre-assigned seating, flexible business fares and freshly brewed coffee on board.
After decades of refusing to contemplate the kind of reward schemes offered by other airlines, Ryanair on Tuesday unveiled “My Ryanair Club” which will offer customers discounts and free flights depending on how often they use the airline.
Ryanair briefly offered a customer loyalty card before O’Leary took over as chief executive in 1994.
The new scheme, which aims to entice people to save credit card data on their Ryanair phone apps, will offer customers one free return flight when they book 12 flights in a year and will make specific offers to customers depending on their travel habits.
“We always said we would never have a scheme with cards and statements and all that administrative waste… But with big data each passenger can have their own (personalised) loyalty scheme,” O’Leary told journalists, adding that this would avoid any significant additional costs.
O’Leary, who has transformed European aviation with his dedication to a no-frills service, denied that his hand was forced two years ago by investors and fellow executives.
Instead he said, a loss of customers to rivals such as Aer Lingus and easyJet made change inevitable.
“We had locked ourselves into a position of, ‘We’re cheaper, nastier and we don’t care’. But there were millions of passengers saying I don’t care how cheap you are,” O’Leary said.
Once passengers agree to save their credit card information on their phone apps, Ryanair plans to launch “one-flick” purchases, mimicking the “one-click” purchases on Customers will be able to pay for priority boarding, express security checks and premium seats from their phones.
The app will also offer airport transfers, parking tickets – and eventually tickets for local landmarks and concerts – using software that recognises the phone’s location.
EasyJet offers services such as free seat reservation, fast-track security and extra cabin bag to members who pay an annual fee. Ryanair customers will also be prompted to rate their flight to give the company instant feedback on areas where customer service remains weak.
O’Leary credits the company’s Always Getting Better customer service drive with lifting annual passenger numbers to 106 million from 80 million and shrinking its average percentage of empty seats per flight to 8 percent from 18.
Ryanair’s share price has doubled to over 13 euros from 6.50 euros in late 2014. O’Leary, whose horse won the famous Grand National steeplechase at the weekend, said he had learned some humility. “Customers demonstrated by moving in fairly small, but significant amounts that we don’t know it all — that I have still things to learn.”

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