SAS beefs up its bonus program

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Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) is launching another offensive in its ongoing efforts to compete with low-fare rival Norwegian Air. Now it plans to beef up its so-called “EuroBonus” program for frequent flyers, with new levels of service and benefits for loyal passengers.

SAS and Norwegian jets park side-by-side at Oslo's main airport at Gardermoen, but are fierce rivals with huge differences in costs, not least those involving executive pay. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

SAS plans to improve its frequent flyer program EuroBonus, part of another effort to compete against rival Norwegian. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

Last month SAS announced orders for a new fleet of extra wide-body Airbus jets for long-distance routes. Now it’s getting more aggressive about how it intends to get and keep passengers on board them.

“SAS will have an offer for everyone, but we’ll concentrate extra on those who travel a lot,” Eivind Roald, director of sales and marketing for SAS, told newspaper Aftenposten. He said SAS hasn’t exploited its bonus program well enough in attracting and retaining customers.

SAS now is considering introduction of a frequent flyer status level higher than its current “EuroBonus Gold,” possible with a new “Diamond, Platinum of Elite” card. It will entitle its holder to carry more free luggage, secure more discounts and get a “free” EuroBonus Gold card for a family member.

SAS is also evaluating changes to its loyalty program that will include guaranteed bonus travel without restrictions on time of travel, bonus points that never expire and several offers at each level of frequent-flyer status. SAS passengers may also be able to use bonus points to gain access to airport lounges, even when they’re traveling on low-fare tickets, or to use the “fast-track” airport security line.

SAS’ EuroBonus program was introduced in 1992, around 10 years after US airlines started offering them, and, like other European airline loyalty programs, has never been as generous. It took SAS several years, for example, to allow its frequent flyers to use bonus points for travel upgrades. Now that’s a popular way for many SAS passengers to use their points, not least since the amount of taxes that must be paid for bonus travel within Europe can exceed the price of a low-fare ticket.

Since SAS is a member of the Star Alliance airline network, which includes such major carriers as United and Lufthansa, its bonus program has been a major marketing advantage in the rivalry with Norwegian. SAS recently won the right to reinstate bonus points for travel within Norway, which was disallowed when Norwegian first started up to reduce SAS’ market dominance at the time.

Now Roald wants to make better use of EuroBonus, and airline industry experts applaud the move. “It’s important for SAS to promote its differences from Norwegian,” Espen Andersen, assistant professor at Norwegian Business School BI, told Aftenposten.

Many of SAS most frequent flyers, Andersen noted, are “extremely demanding customers who want their travel to be efficient and comfortable.” A new frequent flyer status level higher than EuroBonusGold can become a status symbol, he said, and better benefits will “cement their relations to SAS.”

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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