Tech firms try to sell airlines on push notification advertising


Air travel and new tech have seldom overlapped in as many ways as they do now, with the evidence spanning from Google Flight, the search engine giant’s new flight search tool, to mobile payment services such as Apple Pay, which is increasingly accepted on JetBlue Airways flights.

Eager to highlight innovations at the intersection of air travel and tech, conference organizer Eye for Travel recently hosted a Social Media and Mobile Strategies Forum, which attracted airlines, tech start-ups and mega industry movers to San Francisco to talk about the impact of this paradigm on the passenger experience (#PaxEx).

One San Francisco-based new entrant called OtherLevels is currently creating customized marketing platforms for Sega and Australian retail grocery chain Coles, among others. OtherLevels is next poised to enter #PaxEx by leveraging optimized messaging analytics to send mobile messages both on the ground and in the air.

Company VP of strategic services Scollay Petry believes airlines are already doing a good job of incorporating push notifications into their apps to keep passengers abreast of flight delays and the status of upgrade requests. “I can speak to United. They’ve done a really good job in the past year giving me flight updates via email, keeping me on top of things which, I think, is really interesting and useful. What maybe they haven’t done is sort of told me about new services,” he says.

To this end, says Petry, airlines could advertise onboard amenities via push notifications to connected passengers.

Shashank Nigam, CEO of airline marketing company SimpliFlying, notes that Dutch low-cost carrier Transavia recently launched a WhatsApp customer service app, allowing it to “reach their customers through a channel that customers are already on … they keep using the app they are already familiar with”.

This type of connection could set the scene for eventual revenue generation across #PaxEx touchpoints, and especially as more of the world fleet is fitted with Wi-Fi and cellular connectivity (one or the other would be required to facilitate the notification).

When it comes to the delicate topic of sending customized messages to different types of passengers (advertising a ham sandwich to vegans, for instance), Petry says OtherLevels has a lot of experience in handling customer attention with the utmost respect. “We don’t just send one message to all people. We might have a segment of users and then try basing a test on moms, and say ‘Hey 10% off Apple products for moms.’ And then [we do] a 50/50-split test, and at the end of campaign, you understand which message really worked.”

On the payments side, Points – a global leader in loyalty currency management that works with over four million consumers and more than 50 of the world’s top brands – wants to integrate into popular payment apps like PayPal and Google Wallet to allow passengers to use their frequent flyer miles in concert with other loyalty program miles for a dollars-to-miles and miles-to-dollars conversion.

“United, Marriott, Starwood, all those programs become integrated. If you’re a MileagePlus member, you’re probably a member to other channels as well but the ability to use rewards across multiple brands or as a form of payment is very limited as there’s no common infrastructure in the loyalty industry. We’re enabling that member to convert rewards from one program into another, or redeem for cash,” notes company president and co-founder Christopher Barnard.

Buts Points also envisages deploying messaging within wallet apps on behalf of airlines to send targeted advertisements based on the wealth of data that comes with having a hotel, airline and spending app account combined.

When we asked travelers on Twitter whether they want to receive push notifications about available onboard amenities, like extra legroom seats, during their flight, reaction was shift and largely negative, with some suggesting it might be the last straw for passengers who feel nickeled and dimed to death, and are increasingly seated in ultra-tight economy class configurations. But Routehappy director of data – and fellow RGN contributor – Jason Rabinowitz may have summed up our eventual realities when he only half-jokingly tweeted: