Archive for April, 2012

“Did you know…GOP Blasts Obama for Travel Costs?”

(Wall Street Journal)

Obama, Airforce One

Obama, Airforce One

…House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) criticized Mr. Obama Thursday for visits this week to college campuses in the battleground states of North Carolina, Colorado and Iowa and for using a “fake fight” with Congress over a planned increase in federally subsidized student loan rates as a pretext for his travel.

Travel to the Forbidden Zone — Part 3 of 3: Sorting out Mexico’s Image Problem

ExpertFlyer Hot Topics – Where the Rubber Meets the Runway

We continue to explore Mexico’s image problem with Pablo Weisz, International SOS’ Regional Security Manager, in the final installment of our Travel to the Forbidden Zone Hot Topic series.  Read last week’s post, where we examine real vs. perceived threats associated with travel to Mexico.

The best explanation regarding Mexico’s image problem is two-fold:

  • First, the speed at which the security environment has deteriorated has been a major factor rather than the frequency of incidents suffered by respondents. This is despite the fact that the country is considerably safer than others rated in this study.
  • Second, media over-reporting on the drug war has placed drug violence, a rare event affecting the business traveler and expatriate, as the central story.
High Risk Locations

International SOS 2011 Duty of Care and Travel Risk Management Global Benchmarking Study

The current security environment in Mexico should be carefully monitored and organizations operating there would be remiss to ignore it. This attention, however, should be nuanced by the fact that tougher operating environments persist in countries listed lower on the results of our study. Organizations operating in Mexico should follow these important measures:

  • Identify existing vulnerabilities of operations on the ground;
  • Communicate with stakeholders the nuances surrounding the security situation in the country separating perception from the aforementioned realities;
  • Develop travel policies that emphasize your Duty of Care;
  • Prepare travelers and expatriates ahead of deployment by providing common sense security awareness training;
  • Make efforts to track your travelers to determine their likelihood of exposure to existing threats;
  • Monitor changes in the security environment and adjust your security stance around these.

Learn more about Duty of Care on the International SOS blog, Dialogues on Duty of Care, at www.dialoguesondutyofcare.com.

 

One-on-One with Christopher Barnard, President, Points.com

In this month’s One-on-One blog, ExpertFlyer talks with Christopher Barnard, the President of Points.com, the largest consumer rewards management platform that allows over 3 million users to trade, exchange and redeem points, miles and rewards.

Points.com’s solutions enable the management and monetization of loyalty currencies, including frequent flyer miles, hotel points, retailer rewards and credit card points, as well as enhancing loyalty program consumer offerings and back-end operations for more than 50 partners worldwide. Points.com’s software-as-a-service (SaaS) products allow eCommerce merchants to add loyalty solutions to their online stores and reward customers for purchases.

Christopher Barnard, President

Christopher Barnard, President. Points.com

“We’re helping to make the world’s Loyalty Programs more valuable and engaging

– Christopher Barnard, president, Points.com

How does Points.com make travelers points and miles go further? What makes your tool better than competitors, like MileageManager or Mileport?

With Consumers participating in more and more loyalty programs the need to organize them is certainly growing.  However, organizing and managing are different things.  In order to manage all these un-tapped assets, consumers need to conduct useful transactions, as well. That’s what differentiates Points.com’s service – the ability to actively manage your programs, not passively see your aggregated information.  Additionally, we do all this in partnership with the Loyalty Programs, so all the transactions and information sharing is fully sanctioned and secure.

What’s your take on the latest crop of point tracking/award searching sites, such as UsingMiles, GoMiles, and Superfly? How do they compete with Points.com’s business?

We’ve always thought that the ability to track miles is a valuable service. We’ve partnered with the loyalty industry to offer that capability so that Consumers can get more engaged in their Loyalty Programs by doing some unique transactions.  Most of the new start-ups offering tracking services are focused on using loyalty information to help people search for flights. They’ve also chosen to do this outside of the loyalty industry so don’t have the benefit of our direct integrations and relationships with the Loyalty Programs.

You’ve introduced a number of new program offerings in the last couple of years.  Talk about how Points.com’s Trading Exchange works and how it has been received by your subscribers?

Trading and Exchanging miles and points has been very popular with our Users. In fact, in 2011 the number of miles and points we transacted (through Exchanging, Trading or Redeeming) at Points.com was up 46% over 2010 and the total number of individual transactions increased 76% over the year.

Here’s how the two transactions work:
Exchange: User A’s miles in Program 1 get Exchanged for miles in Program 2. Just one user is involved and we work with both Programs to determine the exchange rate (it’s a function of how much money Program 1 pays us on the way out and how much Program 2 charges us on the way in).  There is no cash cost for the User but the average exchange rate is approximately 3:1 (and up to 5:1 or more between competing airline programs).

Trade:  User A trades Program 1 miles for Program 2 miles from User B.  Each User gets the miles they want and has to pay approximately $0.01/mile for the Trade (this money plus some admin fees goes mostly to the two Programs).  This is a transaction directly between the two Users so they get to determine the exchange rate they are comfortable with.  This all happens anonymously through our Program sanctioned platform.

Have trading exchange users encountered any challenges associated with determining currency values of airline miles? So, if “traveler A” has 10,000 AA miles and “traveler B” has 10,000 US Airways miles, who decides which is more valuable?

Right off the bat, it has been about a 1:1 ratio between programs on the Trading platform.  One of the keys here is that both Users have to be a member of both programs to conduct a trade.  As most consumers are members of multiple programs, the desire to trade into/out of one comes down more to a specific route or redemption that they have in mind.  We see very few people “leaving” a program after a trade (we know this because vast majority have a larger balance a month later) so it seems that they value each program a bit differently for a specific redemption, but remain fully engaged in both.

How do you see alliances, such as oneworld and Star Alliance, affecting the trading and ultimately the value of miles?

Alliances are a great benefit to the value of a mile. More ways to earn and more ways to burn are always a good thing.

Not every traveler is a frequent flyer and most may only accrue a few hundred loyalty miles per year.  How doesPoints.com allow loyalty program members to enjoy benefits with lower point values?

We do this in a number of ways:
1)    We highlight more and more ways to earn miles in your chosen programs in an effort to get that annual number up
2)    We allow you to buy more miles in many of the programs to get to an award level faster
3)    We offer the Trading and Exchanging of miles to increase their utility, even in smaller numbers
4)    We offer some unique redemptions (like toping up a Starbucks Card, or your PayPal account) that in some cases can be done with smaller balances
5)    We offer a growing number of special offers that Users can take advantage of for as little as 250 to 1,000 miles

Airline programs, like the airlines themselves, tend to be regional.  How are you working with local merchants to leverage airline loyalty programs and incentivize consumers to buy from them?

This is a newer focus for us and we are beginning to ramp up a network of merchants that use our Partners’ miles as their own incentive in order to drive activity.  We believe that in most cases this is much more effective than the merchant trying to start up their own rewards program that will likely have limited appeal given a typically infrequent purchase history with most consumers.  How many winter parkas would you need to buy to earn a free pair of gloves?  That same parka purchase might just earn you enough miles (the last 500 you need) to get to Hawaii for free!

How is your white label program “powering” outfits, like American Airlines, to enable customer purchase of additional airlines miles?

We’ve partnered with over 35 programs around the world to offer Consumers the ability to top up their accounts through our service.  While it’s very rarely worth it to buy all the miles you need for a ticket, it is frequently cheaper to top up an account in order to do a redemption vs. buying a ticket.

What loyalty program trends are you seeing take shape now and how will they affect business travelers and frequent flyers moving forward?

The more broad distribution of Miles and Points is really starting to ramp up. While this will be partly driven by the pace of technology advancement in areas like mobile platforms, social networks, digital wallets, and ecommerce platforms, the real driver will be consumers, led by the business traveler and frequent flyer.

Loyalty Program members are increasingly looking for their programs to show up where they happen to be, not the other way around.  ”I want more places to earn my miles” or “Where else can I use my points?” are constant refrains we hear from Points.com users and through our research.

As program members are quickly getting used to this kind of distributed servicing from all other aspects of their consumer lives (mobile offers, daily deals, multitude of apps, new social networks) they will get increasingly engaged in Loyalty Programs that are following suit.

Travel to the forbidden Zone — Part 2 of 3: Mexico: Perceived vs. Real Threats

ExpertFlyer Hot Topics – Where the Rubber Meets the Runway

In part two of our three-part Hot Topic series on travel to the forbidden zone, we examine real vs. perceived threats associated with travel to Mexico.  International SOS’ Regional Security Manager, Pablo Weisz, shares key insights.  In case you missed part one of our series, click the link provided and read John Rendeiro’s take on international business travel safety. International SOS is the world’s leading international healthcare, medical assistance, and security services company.

Pablo Weisz, Regional Security Manager, Americas, International SOS and Control Risks

Pablo Weisz, Regional Security Manager, Americas, International SOS & Control Risks

Participants in the International SOS Duty of Care and Travel Risk Management Global Benchmarking Study ranked Mexico as the most dangerous place to do business, above countries like Iraq, Nigeria and even Afghanistan. That begs the question about risk perception vs. reality about a country that, for the most part and in the majority of its territory, offers a benign business traveler environment.

Four key factors can affect security risk perception:

  • The type of stakeholder responsible for the security of employees (perception varies by industry and position within the organization);
  • Geographical areas of operation (company location and familiarity with the security issues said location);
  • Ethos and Duty of Care  (the degree to which the company clearly defines its responsibility for the wellbeing of employees);
  • The influence of media reportage over risk perception.

Mexico’s position in the “Number 1” spot is likely the result of an image problem. However, some realities, like these, are impossible to ignore:

  • Since the inauguration of President Felipe Calderon in late 2006, there have been 48,000 deaths. A sharp climb occurred from 2007 through 2010, with a plateau in 2011 at between 12,000 and 15,000 deaths – but this is little comfort to both Mexicans and the companies that operate there.
  • In 2007, the key geographical area of concern was along the northern Mexican border. Due to a rise in violent incidents, that has expanded it to include all northern border states, the Western States of Durango and Sinaloa, the Eastern State of Veracruz and the Southern State of Guerrero. The current trend points to further expansion of what we consider to be high risk zones but this still falls short of designating the majority of Mexican territory under such a rating.
  • There are additional concerns over formerly safe areas, such as Monterrey, Mexico’s industrial capital, which has seen a rapid deterioration in its security environment since 2008. The city of Guadalajara, another important business traveler destination, shares similarities with Monterrey and could be the next “benign” spot to fall victim to rising violence.
  • A general lack of trust in the judicial system and public institutions remains. The Federal Police and military have replaced municipal police forces that are too corrupt to conduct its own public security duties. But these replacements are much less adept at handling public security issues and tend to be unfamiliar with the zones they are now being asked to patrol.
  • This has had two major effects; namely the rise of ancillary crimes, such as street crime and “express kidnapping” and the frequency of human rights violations at the hands of security forces.

However, the perception of Mexico as the top risk to employees is not entirely accurate. The following issues point to this discrepancy: Continue reading →

“Did you know…Indonesia is on Tsunami alert after major quake?”

People run shortly after a powerfull earthquake hits Indonesia

People run shortly after a powerful earthquake hits Indonesia; photo courtesy of The Financial Times AFP

 

According to the Financial Times, Indonesia has issued a new tsunami warning as aftershocks followed an 8.6 magnitude earthquake that struck off the coast of Sumatra, causing concern across the Indian Ocean region.