Destination Canada broke new ground by helping to pay for many U.S. elite status flyers to get matching status on Air Canada. The promotion was a noteworthy example of a destination marketing organization working with a travel tech company to target high-value customers.
Destination Canada did something unusual in September for a destination marketing organization. It used its funds to help pay for a program letting U.S. travelers that have elite status with U.S. carriers such as American Airlines and Delta Air Lines receive matching status on Air Canada during a promotional period.
The program intended to encourage frequent flyers to make more trips to Canada by tempting them with elite perks on Air Canada. The promotion, claimed as a first by a destination marketing organization, began in late September and stopped accepting new applicants at the end of December.
“Frankly, I’m thrilled,” said Gloria Loree, Destination Canada’s chief marketing officer. “Thanks to the conversions, these guests will have benefits for a year — which means a chance for us to have continued engagement with them through personalized marketing.”
The organizers said it was too early to know full results. But there had been “a great uptake” out of the nearly 20,000 travelers who had the opportunity to sign up. To retain elite status for the full year, customers had to book and fly one round trip with Air Canada by January 15, and many did.
Participants were also invited to sign up for one-to-one marketing from Destination Canada.
“We’re seeing exceptional results with or email communications,” Loree said. “Right now, the unsubscribe rate is less than 1 percent. The ‘open rate’ for messages is over 60 percent. These metrics are vastly better results than from other tactics that we’ve employed in the past.”
Destination Canada saw this cohort of frequent flyers as an especially high-value segment to cultivate. Frequent flyers tend to spend more per trip, and they often travel for business — benefiting local economies.
“They also tend to be quite curious about trying new experiences in the areas they’re visiting, which is good for communities,” Loree said.
The status match campaign also lets Destination Canada start considering the lifetime value of this cohort of travelers and to better measure and compare which partnerships and programs deliver results.
“The data can help us fine-tune the other work we do with other affinity brands and with airlines and other suppliers,” Loree said.
Seeking a Return to Air Volumes
Destination Canada is doing other promotions to try to encourage more flying. For instance, it has run a domestic travel promotion marketing campaign in conjunction with Canadian carrier WestJet.
Looking ahead, the tourism body wants to work with U.S. airlines to be creative about boosting cross-border travel in mutually beneficial ways.
“We’re willing to contribute to marketing to help airlines meet their targets for high load factors, which will also help destination communities,” Loree said.
Status Match’s Tech Help
The government tourism body tapped Status Match, a travel tech vendor that’s part of Loyalty Data Co. and based in Singapore, to run the challenge in cooperation with Aeroplan, Air Canada’s frequent flier program.
Since September 2021, Status Match has launched campaigns with Lufthansa Group, Emirates, and Frontier Airlines.
“Status matches are the cheapest, most effective way to onboard a customer who will be high-spending,” said Mark Ross-Smith, co-founder and CEO of StatusMatch. “It’s more effective than a sale, and it’s more effective than running promotions such as a chance to earn double elite qualifying miles.”
The vendor is fully bootstrapped (meaning it hasn’t taken external capital), is profitable, and generated a “seven-figure revenue” last year, Ross-Smith said.
The company includes former airline executives such as Phil Gunter, who created and ran Virgin Australia’s Velocity for seven years, and Stuart Dinnis, who ran Virgin America’s Elevate program for many years. The executives saw an opportunity to create an outsourced expert to help airlines move quickly and experiment with new ways to bring value to their frequent flyer programs.
One problem plaguing status match campaigns is validating claims. Fraud is rife, as some people submit fake claims. Status Match uses a mix of computing tricks and database cross-checking to bring fraud levels down, sparing its airline clients from headaches.
The startup also specializes in figuring out the kinds of marketing interfaces that will boost engagement.
In some cases, Status Match offers a fully white-labeled service.
“We do all that the billings and settlement with the credit card company and design and host the interface and have customer support to answer questions,” Ross-Smith said. “In the Frontier promotion, the airline let customers match elite status on 15 hotel programs into their airline’s program. That move expanded the value for customers, but it also expanded the complexity of the project, which is where we can come in to help.”
The verdict is still out on Destination Canada’s effort. It will take a year’s worth of data to see the overall performance of the campaign. Yet the early word seemed promising.
“In terms of what I’ve seen in other status matches, this was just head and shoulders above anything else,” Ross-Smith said.