Fly Braniff Free: Part 2

Fly Braniff Free:  The Braniff Travel Bonus Bonanza Program (Part 2)

 

The Flying Colors of South America

Gemini Jets 1:400 Scale DC-8-62 Model: The Flying Colors of South America

 

After Harding Lawrence’s departure from Braniff International in December of 1980, John Casey, brother of Albert Casey (Chairman and CEO of American Airlines) was elevated to the positions of President & CEO at Braniff and Neal Robinson became Executive Vice President – Marketing.  When strategizing with Vice President of Sales, Jeff Krida, Robinson told Krida about the Braniff Fast Buck program that lasted about 6 months a decade earlier.

The Fast Buck program awarded passengers a plastic token good for their next trip on Braniff if their flight was late.  This encouraged good will among passengers and tied them to Braniff for their next flight at the same time.  Robinson wanted a program that tied people’s travel decisions to Braniff.  That was when the subject of S&H Green Stamps came up in the Robinson – Krida strategizing as Robinson remembered having to lick and past stamps into books when he was child.

On a more personal note, I can remember that there was a small store near our home at that time that was one of the last stores around in the area to aggressively market the fact that they issued S&H Green Stamps and I remember people demanding Green Stamps when they filled their car fuel tanks with gasoline during the gas crisis of 1979.  Those stamps tied loyalty to that store very tightly during that energy crisis.

Robinson, who had spent a great deal of his career tied to the reservations and financial systems of the airline, hoped that they could tie the program into the Braniff “Cowboy” reservations system so that they could identify the passengers travel with the passenger and offer a benefit to the passenger rather than the company paying for the ticket or the travel agency procuring the ticket.  The passenger would reap a reward that came at no cost to him and the program worked very well.

Flying Colors of The United States

Gemini Jets 1:400 Boeing 727-200 Calder Flying Colors of The United States

 

There are plenty out there who would tell a different story.  Some would tell the AAdvantage story and some would tell the Western Airlines story.  The truth is that like quite a few developments in marketing, there were a number of people who were exploring the idea of a loyalty program.  Men like my father, Robert Crandall, Tom Plaskett, Jeff Krida and others were all of a similar generation who were doing similar things.  They had the benefit of being of the same generation and the same experiences that came with that generation.

From a personal viewpoint, I still remember very strongly the day that American Airlines announced its own program.  My brother and I both reacted strongly and exclaimed “Hey, they stole that from Braniff!”  We were proud and defensive of our father.

It’s also notable that the Braniff campaign was to be good through May 31st  1982.  The airline filed for bankruptcy just 2 weeks before that date and my father had been gone from the airline for many months by that point.  That final element in what needed to happen to support Braniff’s survival was never done by the remaining executive leadership.

Delta Airlines accepted the points earned by former Braniff customers starting about one month after Braniff’s bankruptcy filing.   Delta had just begun their own program and wanted to earn their way into Dallas / Fort Worth in particular.

He who wins, gets to write history and American Airlines won.  The AAdvantage Program won and it is entitled to write some history.  The truth is that I do not believe that American Airlines “stole” the idea.  I strongly suspect they were working hard to figure out solutions to problems just as most airlines were and decided to try something that had worked in other forms and in other decades.

Airline loyalty eroded heavily after deregulation.  Prior to deregulation, you did not choose your airline on price.  The fare was determined by the government.  You chose your airline based on the schedule available and the service style you wanted.  Airlines drove their loyalty with that service.

Post deregulation, fares drove those decisions and particularly so among the public.  Fares were the democracy that the airline industry had never before seen and it was shocking to many just how quickly even the most loyal customers could leave based on fare that was a few dollars cheaper than the next guy.

Airlines knew how to work with loyalty and they craved a way to re-establish it.  So it makes sense that many at many airlines would be working on loyalty programs.

That brings me to an irony in closing this article:  My father was at least a father of airline frequent flier programs if not the father of such and it was a program that worked well for Braniff.  As an airline industry commentator and someone who has been observing the industry for about 20 years now, I loathe frequent flier programs.  I believe they skew the industry in ways that cause service to suffer madly and which allow bad airlines to survive years past what they should be able to do.

And when you think about it, that is a great definition for the success of such a program.

 

View a low resolution copy (courtesy of Braniff Flying Colors Collection, Dallas, Texas) of the original brochure:  Braniff Travel Bonus Bonanza Brochure

For additional images and perspectives, visit the Braniff Flying Colors Facebook Page

 

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