EasyJet is to introduce a loyalty scheme for frequent flyers, as the pioneering low-cost airline celebrates its 20th anniversary.
The carrier announced its new Flight Club scheme on Tuesday as it continued to woo the short-haul business travel market despite increasing competition from low-cost rivals.
Flight Club’s invitation-only membership will begin next year and offer passengers benefits including more flexible tickets, price guarantees and a dedicated customer service team.
Hundreds of thousands of passengers who fly 20 or more times a year with easyJet are expected to qualify for the club, which has been trialled for 18 months on about 15,000 high-frequency travellers. The airline said 74% of its passengers in 2014 were repeat customers.
EasyJet’s chief executive, Carolyn McCall, said the airline had not wanted to imitate a traditional points or air miles scheme as they could “frustrate” customers. “I am incredibly proud that more than 50 million of our customers flying with us this year have flown with us before and chose to fly with us again,” she said.
McCall said it would be “a loyalty scheme with a difference because it gives passengers benefits they really value and can access immediately. It is also simpler to run which means that we can continue to keep our costs low”.
She was speaking at an event at easyJet’s Luton airport headquarters to celebrate two decades since the first orange and white plane left Luton for Glasgow on 10 November 1995. The airline’s founder Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou sat alongside McCall at the event, in a rare cordial public appearance of the airline’s management and its biggest shareholder.
Haji-Ioannou had promoted easyJet’s first flight, on a single leased plane, by offering tickets for the price of a pair of Levi’s jeans, then £29.99. On Tuesday McCall said the cheapest fares on the route were £27.49 while the jeans cost £75.
The airline flies 68 million passengers to 137 airports in 31 countries and operates 788 routes across Europe.
McCall, a former chief executive of Guardian Media Group, said Haji-Ioannou had started the “low-cost flying revolution” and “broke the fact that flying was reserved for the elite”.
Tributes were paid by customers – including a video message from the British prime minister, David Cameron, who said: “When we see that bright orange livery, it means one thing – time to get away.”
McCall said the airline would continue to challenge conventions, and prove that low-cost flying could deliver excellent customer service . She promised that a dedicated Gatwick terminal would improve the flying experience while keeping costs down and revamped websites and apps would simplify booking.
In a pointed reference to easyJet’s low-cost rival Ryanair, whose contracted pilots and working practices are being investigated in Germany, McCall said “success and size brings responsibility as well as rewards”, adding that easyJet would not “only focus on profit at all cost”.
She said easyJet recognised unions and, while employing 10,000 people directly and engaging a further 25,000 as suppliers or contractors across Europe, “we use local employment rules and practices, unlike any other low-cost airline”.
EasyJet has 2,325 customers still in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, after outbound flights were suspended by the British government amid terror fears after the Metrojet crash. McCall said the airline would be led by the government on any plans to restart flights. “If any airport needs to tighten its security, it will be government that decides,” she said.
McCall denied that easyJet “jumped the gun” in announcing that it would be operating a number of rescue flights out of Sharm el-Sheikh that were later cancelled, adding to confusion as holidaymakers tried unsuccessfully to return home. She said: “We had clearance and the next day it was rescinded.”
She said it was too early to say how much the crisis had cost easyJet in terms of lost bookings and looking after delayed passengers in Egypt, whose accommodation and expenses will be paid by the airline.
This article was written by Gwyn Topham Transport correspondent, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 10th November 2015 17.46 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010