Miles Hidden in your Gift Card? Thoughts on the MileagePlus Gift Card Exchange program


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This past holiday season, I found myself a few miles short of redeeming for a flight home to my native Wisconsin. Eager to see me mum and almost equally eager to not have to drive 10 hours to do it, I bought extra miles to top off the ticket. Yes, I’d have preferred to avoid the extra cost, but on the other hand, I appreciated the convenience and flexibility that purchasing extra miles gave me.

Had I but known that instead of money, I might have been able to pay for my extra miles with unused coffee, steak dinners or CDs I’ve never listened to.

Well, not literally, of course. But, United Continental has recently given MileagePlus members a choice to pay for extra miles with those very assets, in the form of unused balances on gift cards. Not unused coffee or dinners or CDs per se (we’re not talking barter here), but the gift currency I might have used had I chosen to buy those items. MileagePlus members can register their gift cards from participating retailers online and apply unused balances to miles.

I find a number of interesting wins in the MileagePlus Gift Card Exchange program:

* For the consumer: Less “financial pain.” How much different is the perception of getting something for free in exchange for something you got for free, as opposed to paying with hard currency? And there might be some consumer “financial delight” here, as well. Consumers who find themselves with the gift-card version of the ugly necktie a loved one gave as a birthday gift – for instance, $25 toward dinner at a restaurant that doesn’t suit their taste – now have an outlet for dispensing with the card other than regifting.
* For the airline and its participating partners: The opportunity to reduce liability.
* For the industry: Another example of innovation and creative thinking in a day when both have premium value.
* For the brand-consumer relationship: Communicating in theory and in practice that flexibility and satisfaction of needs are of mutual importance and mutual benefit.
* For my mom: It’s OK to give me another gift card to that ugly-necktie store for my birthday – it just might help me to afford to come visit you again.

Bill Brohaugh
As managing editor, Bill Brohaugh is responsible for the day-to-day management and editorial for the COLLOQUY magazine and, the most comprehensive loyalty marketing web site in the world. In addition to writing many of the feature articles, Bill develops the editorial calendar, hires and manages outside writers and researchers and oversees print and online production. He also contributes to COLLOQUY's weekly email Market Alert and the COLLOQUYTalk series of white papers.


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