Q&A: On Business on point

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SMEs are an increasingly important part of the global economy, but a sector the travel industry has largely overlooked. British Airways’ answer to this marginalised group is On Business, a loyalty programme that provides rewards and benefits to the company rather than the individual traveller and recognises  needs particular SMEs have, such as flexibility and limited capacity for administratively intensive processes. Edward Frost, BA’s Regional Commercial Manager South and East Africa, explains the intricacies behind On Business.

Q: Do you believe there’s a misconception in the business travel space – particularly with small and medium-sized enterprises – regarding shopping around for cheap, last-minute fares?

A: A few years ago we commissioned some global research across fast-growing markets including India and China as well as established economies such as the UK and United States. It showed that unlike most corporates, which have the capacity to set detailed travel budgets in advance and then negotiate the best deal, SMEs operate in the here-and-now and want flexibility. They shop around for the cheapest fare at the 11th hour and are then heavily penalised if they need to change bookings. This means that they can end up paying over the odds for travel. On Business tries to address some of these issues.

Q: Do you believe the SME space is largely neglected when it comes to bespoke corporate travel products?

A: It was. Now, particularly as corporate travel slows, there’s more appreciation that smaller, more nimble businesses may be where there’s still demand. Typically these are dynamic companies wanting to seize opportunities and open new markets and they’re looking for travel products that will enable them to do this quickly and cost-effectively, but which don’t require a whole lot of time to manage.

Q: When did On Business launch?

A: The original On Business programme has been around for a while, but in 2015, we fine-tuned it to take into account feedback from customers. For example it is now more flexible, so members who want immediate savings can choose and upfront discount off flights if they consider that a better option than collecting points for redemption flights. Points can be used for cabin upgrades or special offers. They can also be used up to one day before travel to make date and time changes to redemption flights. It has also been simplified. Rather than points being awarded for distance flow, rewards are now directly linked to spend which is a much fairer way of doing things.  It is easier to manage and monitor. An online management tool can be configured to provide customised reports and enables members to maximise the potential of the programme and effectively use accumulated points. The member can choose to manage the programme themselves or delegate it to their travel buyer.

Q: What are the standout features of On Business?

A: In addition to those mentioned above, it now works across British Airways, American Airlines and Iberia, allowing members to collect and spend on all three carriers. In South Africa this extends to domestic and regional British Airways’ flights operated by Comair.

Q: How does it reward loyal customers?

A: On Business is designed to deliver a loyalty dividend, which over time should enable businesses to achieve savings that would not be possible by last-minute shopping around for the cheapest fares.

Members earn On Business points every time they book a qualifying flight with British Airways, Iberia, American Airlines and Comair. The new programme includes a three-tier ranking system which boosts members’ earning power as they progress up the tiers. It delivers bottom-line benefits to businesses. Last year it saved over 49,000 members approximate $42 million. In total members flew 2.9 million times on 1,213 different routes.

Q: How does On Business differ from BA’s frequent flyer programme or do the two work together?

A: It works in parallel with the Executive Club, our loyalty programme for frequent flyers, so on a single flight both the company and individual traveller could accumulate reward towards redemption flights.

Q: How does one sign up or become a member?

A: Potential members can sign up on our website – onbusiness.britishairways.com

Q: What are your general thoughts on the state of the airline loyalty space and the changes it is going through?

A: As with every other aspect of our business it is getting more competitive and requires constant innovation to ensure that the programmes remain relevant to the needs of our customers. Last year’s re-launch of On Business is a case in point. We identified SMEs as an important and growing market and developed a product to fill this gap. We subsequently re-evaluated it based on members’ feedback and made some amendments to make it easier to use and understand, more flexible and increased the options to earn and redeem points.