American Airlines wants people to drink like they’re first class, even if they’re not yet flying

For some travelers, a glass of Chardonnay some 35,000 feet in the air is as ubiquitous as the free pretzels and peanuts.

Most airlines have a long-standing policy of free drinks as part of the premium paid for a first class seat. But when the pandemic shut down nearly all air travel – and kept elite-level loyalists stranded in their homes – bottles of Spanish and Portuguese wines and French champagne began to dust off.

“We’ve had a great surplus,” said Alison Taylor, director of customer service at American Airlines.

So the carrier came up with a solution: a wine club, named after the premium class experience of the Flagship brand.

Flagship Cellars, curated by airline sommelier (yes, the airline has a sommelier) Bobby Stuckey, will sell an international blend of whites and reds as a collection or as part of a monthly subscription. The selection is drawn from the same products served in the brand’s lounges and on board flights.

“It’s another way to generate activity with people and keep them engaged with Americans, even if they only fly once or twice a year,” Taylor said.

It gives them a little taste of what you can enjoy whether you’re in business or first-class.

Alison Taylor, Chief Customer Officer, American Airlines

And while there is no other airline with a wine club, the concept is not new to brand marketing. The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal each tout a wine subscription service. Martha Stewart launched hers in 2017 with the help of artificial intelligence.

While the airline hopes to sell a few bottles – targeting more than $ 40,000 in sales this quarter – more importantly, it wants to remind travelers that the brand’s premium experiences still exist, despite the pandemic that cost the industry billions.

“We want to keep Flagship alive when the show is closed,” Taylor said. “It’s a way of engaging with people so that they can understand and appreciate it, even if they don’t steal. It also gives them a glimpse of what you can enjoy whether you’re in Business Class or First Class. “

The importance of premium passengers

These flagship customers are important. While premium passengers only accounted for around 5% of pre-pandemic air travel in 2020, they represent nearly 31% of global airline revenues during the same period, according to the International Air Transportation Association trade group.

American mainly markets the club through its own loyalty network AAdvantage—following a trend in the travel industry“The size Taylor refused to disclose.

Airlines are generally secretive about the size of these programs, but the pandemic has given some clues. For example, AAdvantage is large enough that the airline can put it as collateral to secure a loan during the summer, with an estimated value of between $ 18 billion and $ 30 billion. United Airlines also revealed to investors that its program is worth it over $ 20 billion when she mortgaged her own MileagePlus network to get a loan.

Make the first trip “ special ”

Travel is not yet fully recovered and likely won’t be until 2022. But for the few who do fly, airlines are trying to convert them into loyalty members, putting them in the fold for access to their first-party data. coveted and send them direct marketing communications. As of March, according to Taylor, the airline was converting about 40% of new flyers into the airline’s loyalty program.

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