Qualiflyer, Europe's pioneering alliance frequent flyer programme (FFP), is in the process of closing down and transferring thousands of members to new programmes being created by each of its three remaining airline customers.

At its height Qualiflyer, launched by Swissair in 1992, was the largest standalone global FFP with 11 airline members from the Swiss group's Qualiflyer alliance. However the FFP, which has grown to a membership of 3.7 million, unravelled along with the demise of Swissair.

It will finally cease to exist from January when its last three partners, Swiss, SN Brussels and TAP Air Portugal, begin their own individual schemes: Swiss TravelClub; Privilege; and Navigator. With these carriers pursuing different airline alliance strategies, it no longer made sense for them to remain in Qualiflyer. "We are building three new programmes in record time, each with its own structure, partners and set of rules," explains Roland Rutz, vice-president marketing and sales at Qualiflyer Loyalty Ltd (QLL).

The new FFPs will be managed by QLL, in which Swiss acquired a majority stake from Swissair's administrators in May, with SN Brussels and TAP as minority shareholders. This arrangement will be much cheaper than if each carrier set up its own FFP from scratch, but more expensive than the cost of being part of the larger Qualiflyer, he says.

Zurich-based QLL is "on track" to launch the new FFPs in January, and is sorting its members between the three remaining airlines. In 80% of cases this is an obvious division, with the primary criteria based on their most frequently used airline, in addition to place of residence and other purchasing habits.

The pre-selection being made by QLL is problematic, however, says FFP expert Ravindra Bhagwanani of consultancy Global Flight Management, because members do not know enough details of the new loyalty programmes to make a choice between them. He argues that a mid-October deadline for members to decide if they wanted to transfer to an FFP different to that selected by Qualiflyer was too early, and that it was no way to treat "your best customers".

Rutz says the issue is overstated, with less than 1% of members objecting to the selection or asking for a transfer to another FFP. QLL is having to negotiate a new set of agreements with partners such as other airlines, hotel groups and car hire firms for the three FFPs, but it is assuming the line-up will be similar to that of Qualiflyer.

Once it has completed the creation of the three FFPs, QLL believes it has the experience to become the FFP partner for other carriers looking to outsource their customer loyalty programmes, says Rutz. "All the experience we have gathered in Qualiflyer, and now with the separation and operation of the single airline programmes, means we are capable of handling almost anybody's frequent flyer business," he says.

Source: Airline Business