The best strategies eschew avocado toast and instead set about redefining loyalty programs, says travel consultant (and Millennial) Aurelie Krau.

If it seems that travel brands pay too much attention to Millennials, it’s probably because the cohort born between 1980 and 2000 is taking more trips than other groups.  

For example, according to commerce platform Travelport’s 2018 U.S. Vacation Survey, 55 percent of Millennials made more plans to travel over the last two years versus Generation X (31 percent) and Baby Boomers (20 percent). 

Still, just because travel brands are looking for more ways to reach Millennials, it doesn’t mean they’re getting it right. Case in point: airlines. 

Aurelie Krau, a Paris-based travel consultant and "travel geek" with travel and meetings management firm FESTIVE ROAD, has been thinking a lot about the demise of Joon, which was Air France's attempt to build a low-cost carrier for younger fliers. Joon, which initially flew routes to a variety of European cities, including Paris, Barcelona, Berlin, and quickly expanded to Turkey, India, and South Africa, was wound down starting this year and ceasing all operations in June. For Krau, this overt attempt to attract Millennials offers a cautionary tale of what airlines get wrong when targeting specific age groups. 

“I'm a millennial, so when I first heard that Joon was being created in about two years ago, I thought, "Nice. They're releasing an entire airline aimed at connected travelers, Millennials,” Krau said.  

“I had a client meeting in Barcelona. Barcelona was one of the first routes that Joon opened and I was on one of the airline’s first flights. I quickly figured out it was simply an Air France flight rebranded as ‘Joon.’ I looked around and asked passengers, what is Joon? ‘It's Air France.’ They were all very confused. 

“They had an entire campaign directed toward Millennials,” Krau continued. “That was obvious in the outfits of the staff as well. They were wearing sneakers. The aircraft had an electric blue color, so it looked a bit more modern. You had an app and you had instant wifi access. Within the app, you also got streaming access to TV series, movies, and other stuff that wasn’t available on other flights. It was pretty cool because I could catch up with Game of Thrones.” 

Even Joon’s menu appeared to targeted based on clichés associated with Millennials. “It reminded me of a funny observation a journalist made not too long ago,” Krau noted. “Millennials cannot afford a mortgage because we're spending too much money on avocado toast.” 

To Krau, it was a case study in the reliance on superficial elements without substance to serve as a foundation for travelers to trust the brand.  

Joon, Air France's failed experiment in a Millennial-oriented airline.

Millennial Half-Step  

One of the things Krau felt didn’t work was that Joon’s dedicated website would simply redirect to Air France to complete a booking. The app was branded as “Air France” with Joon’s screen operating as a subordinate feature to complete the check-in. This muddied the brand. 

“To me, it seemed that either you do it and you do it full steam, or you don't do it at all,” she said. “And that’s perhaps part of the reason it eventually failed. Joon was one of the first attempts to specifically target a population and they had a great opportunity. But it didn’t work.”

Generally speaking, while Krau can appreciate airline marketing features that keep Millennials in mind, focusing on superficial elements like casual uniforms, brighter colors, and avocado toast misses the mark.   

“Instead of thinking about the style, airlines should focus on the behaviors and needs of the population of connected travelers,” Krau said. “I personally don't care about in-flight entertainment because I find most airlines don't have good offerings for me. I just want my Netflix, and I'm happy.” 

Creating The Right Conversation 

Still, certain light touches shown by a carrier can be meaningful, Krau adds. 

“In terms of engaging with younger generations, airlines should tweak the way that they communicate with us,” she says. “Younger passengers are very much focused on pop culture, the power of words, the power of imagery. Think about emojis or GIFs, or such elements that can bring a fun and engaging twist to the conversation airlines want to have with Millennials as customers.” 

European railway Trainline’s approach to social media marketing and communication presented one recent example that airlines might want follow in attempting to appeal to Millennials, Krau says.  

“Trainline’s release notes—usually the most boring kinds of docs you can imagine reading— contrived a note that was surprisingly funny,” Krau said. “The system experienced a huge bug that caused a disruption when attempting to complete in-app payments. When they resolved the bug issue, they sent a note with a cute introduction: ‘Hi, I'm the bug and this is what I've done...’  

“Being funny and cute creates engagement,” Krau continued. “People share the message on social media. The brand generates some positive buzz. This past March, when British Airways flew to the wrong airport, Ryanair’s response was amazing; it posted an image of Geography for Dummies and tagged BA. It was brilliant.” 

Lufthansa's Oktoberfest is tailored for Instagram moments

The Pop-Up Concept Of Airline Retailing 

But as Krau notes, humor and style and choices all cut across various age groups. Ultimately, by clarifying the ways they connect with Millennials, airlines will also attract other age groups.  

“The point is that airlines should really look at behaviors,” Krau said. “What do people share?” 

Krau points to the concept of a pop-up store in the retailing sector. “You have shops that open for one month at a specific address, and then it's closed,” Krau said. “It creates a sense of urgency among consumers.”

Lufthansa has woven that sense of a special, finite experience during Oktoberfest celebrations. “The Lufthansa flight crew is dressed for Oktoberfest,” Krau noted. “They have beer sales on board. That kind of program encourages passengers to say, ‘That airline is really cool. Look what they did!’" 

Airline Loyalty And Personalization Challenges 

It’s a given that Millennials helped spur the on-demand economy of app-based food delivery, ride hailing, viewing, and all the mobile-based e-commerce recommendations that underpins those activities. But in a sense, most consumers have embraced a certain ethos that says, “Give me what I want before I ask for it and base it on my past shopping history with you.” 

At a time when legacy airlines are starting to make major changes in the way frequent flier points are awarded, the structure of loyalty/rewards programs are changing. While the advent of dynamic pricing has had the most direct impact on legacy carriers’ rethinking of points, the Millennial influence is apparent here too.  

Relatively speaking, Millennials tend to value personalized experiences over discounts (though the discounts matter greatly, to be sure, as with anyone else making a booking). But the airlines that make the booking and passenger services more tailored to the stated and previously exhibited preferences of the traveler are most likely to win over Millennials. 

“Airlines should be much better at loyalty programs, but most of them, sorry, they're not good enough,” Krau said. “I have to fly an inordinate amount of times in order to be considered for even the second tier of a loyalty program. Why do you still count the number of miles I'm flying with you? Being a frequent flyer ought to simply mean that I'm flying frequently with your airline. If I fly 2 or 3 times a month on a short-haul flight, I'm still a frequent flyer – but I'm just not doing as many miles as somebody who would be on a long-haul flight. 

“I should be recognized for how often I’m on an airline, and they should recognize my past behaviors and offer experiences that reflect what I’ve requested,” she added. “They should also recognize when I appear to be flying for leisure travel or for business. It’s not that hard for airlines to get this right. But they still fail.”