American Airways Needs Folks to Drink Like They’re in First Class—Even If They’re Not Flying But

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

Most airlines have long pursued free drinks as part of the premium paid for a first class seat. But when the pandemic shut down almost all air travel – and kept elite loyalists at home – bottles of expensive Spanish and Portuguese wine and French champagne began to gather dust.

“We had a huge surplus,” said Alison Taylor, American Airlines’ chief customer officer.

So the airline found a solution: a wine club named after the brand’s flagship in the premium class.

Flagship Cellars, curated by the airline’s sommelier (yes, the airline has a sommelier) Bobby Stuckey, will sell an international mix of white and red either as a collection or as part of a monthly subscription. The selection is made from the same material that is served in the lounges and on board the brand.

“This is another way to generate activity with people and keep them engaging with Americans, even if they only fly once or twice a year,” Taylor said.

And while there may not be another airline with a wine club, the concept of branding is not new. The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal each promote a wine subscription service. Martha Stewart started her own in 2017 with the help of artificial intelligence.

It gives them a little taste of what to enjoy when on business or first class.

Alison Taylor, American Airlines chief customer officer

While the airline is hoping to sell a few bottles – with sales of more than $ 40,000 this quarter – it wants to remind flyers that the brand’s premium experiences are still going strong despite the pandemic that has cost the industry billions actually still exist.

“We want to keep the flagship alive when the lounge is closed,” said Taylor. “This is a way to get in touch with people so they can understand and enjoy it even when they’re not flying. It also gives them a little taste of what to enjoy when on business or first class. “

The importance of premium passengers

These flagship customers are important. While premium passengers accounted for only about 5% of pre-pandemic air travel in 2020, they account for almost 31% of global airline revenue in the same period, according to the International Air Transportation Association.

American primarily markets the club to its own AAdvantage loyalty network – following a trend across the travel industry – the size of which Taylor refused to reveal.

Airlines usually don’t know how big such programs are, but the pandemic has provided some clues. For example, AAdvantage is big enough that the airline could put it on deposit as collateral to secure a summer loan valued at between $ 18 billion and $ 30 billion. United Airlines also announced to investors that the program was worth over $ 20 billion when it mortgaged its own MileagePlus network to obtain credit.

The trip has not yet fully recovered and is unlikely to be restored until 2022. But for the few that fly, the airlines are trying to convert them into loyalty members to access their coveted first-party data and send them direct marketing communications. According to Taylor, the airline has switched around 40% of new leaflets to the airline’s loyalty program since March.

Meanwhile, American is offering free wine tastings to its elite members, and the airline’s top corporate customers are also getting bottles.

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