Until early 2020, life in the corporate world was something of a merry-go-round. Frenetic business travel would sometimes arise out of necessity but often out of a hunger to accumulate ‘points’. Loyalty points had become an enviable currency and status symbol. The colour of your loyalty card often defined how people in professional circles viewed you. Silver lounge was just not good enough, we wanted gold, platinum, PPS – whatever the next milestone was. Business trips would be planned to accumulate more points, to further fulfil our desire to travel. So the busier you got, the better or higher class of leisure travel you could hope to avail. When you found the time, that is. 

Now that you think about it in retrospect, this wasn’t very sustainable. It became a whirlwind in which we were all caught up, afraid to slow down to catch our breath, lest we fall a tier down. We craved the upgrades, the suites, the free lounges and the club access that set us apart from the rest. And so strong was this desire that we forgot to take joy in the process of travel itself, be it business travel or for leisure.

Then came 2020, the year that took travel out of the equation altogether. And like a penny stock, the value of loyalty points crashed. It did not matter how many hundred thousand points you had in an airline or with a hotel chain. Unless you fell for their push to use the points for overpriced e-commerce retail purchases, the points became a mere number on an account balance – with no immediate value or significance. The titanium and platinum cards gathered dust along with the stack of passports, waiting for a day to become relevant again.

With 2021 knocking on our doors, we stand at a crossroad today. The immediate future is no longer a black hole. There’s an unmistakable light shining at the end of the tunnel. But one wonders about the many changes that happened in 2020 and if they will have any lasting impact, or will the norm return back to what it was pre-Covid-19.

As a marketeer, it compels me to ask the question – will this fall from grace of the loyalty program act as a reality check for marketing teams? As when the internet shook up traditional forms of marketing and opened up an array of new possibilities for marketeers, will the sudden irrelevance of the loyalty program in 2020 force marketeers in hospitality, aviation and allied industries to relook at their simple tiered reward system and help evolve it into something more resilient? Something that offers value to the customer through varying economic conditions, in a variety of forms.

Or will we go back to piling up those points once again when travel picks up, scrambling to get to the top of the pyramid. To be the first to board, to be recognised by name in a flight full of strangers, and to hang the elusive luggage tag that whispers our elite status, recognisable only amongst the relevant set. Would we have learnt anything from a year that was full of life lessons? Or will we simply fall back to what is tried and tested in the world of loyalty marketing?

In the absence of a crystal ball or Paul the Octopus, we’ll have to wait and watch. Only time will tell.