Aer Lingus is replacing its Gold Circle loyalty programme with Aer Club, to be launched “in partnership” with Avios.
The announcement, which was widely expected, follows Aer Lingus’ joining IAG in the summer (see news, August 19).
Communications to all Gold Circle members will be sent out this month, with Gold Circle closing and Aer Club launching on March 31.
Mike Rutter, Aer Lingus COO, said that the number of “engaged [active] members of Gold Circle is 100,000, but that the potential for the new Aer Club is much greater”.
He added: “Gold Circle was a programme introduced in the mid-1980s and was aimed at supporting loyalty in the business product of Aer Lingus’ transatlantic business… and had not undergone any changes since then… It appealed purely to those who travelled transatlantic and particularly who travelled business class on that route.”
Rutter said that the Irish airline has “a database of six and a half million Aer Lingus fliers in Ireland, the UK and the United States, and so the existing penetration of Gold Circle bears no relation to its potential penetration of Aer Club”.
Gold Circle will continue until Aer Club’s March 2016 launch, when all members will be “moved across to an Aer Club tier based on your activity in the preceding 12 months”.
To read Business Traveller‘s full interview with Rutter, click here.
Points will be transferred across from Gold Circle into new accounts, which will then become Avios accounts.
Gold Circle points will have to be used up by March 31, when any existing points will expire.
Aer Lingus said in a statement: “Once you have confirmed your membership to Aer Club, you will receive regular emails from our loyalty team to keep you up to date with programme developments, information and new collection and redemption partners as they come on board.
“One month prior to the launch of Aer Club you will be contacted and informed of your new Aer Club Tier membership and your new Aer Club membership pack will then be sent out to you,”
The addition of Aer Club to Avios will be welcomed by British Airways Executive Club members.
Rutter said: “Our position as a business – which is reflected in the way we will seek to redeem Avios – is to be the lowest cost platform across the Atlantic.”
In addition, Rutter pointed to the advantages of the Aer Lingus’ new transatlantic business class product and being able to “pre-clear customers and border controls, which means you arrive in the US as a domestic passenger in JFK or San Francisco”.
And, since no Air Passenger Duty is paid when departing Dublin for the US, passengers taking the leg to Dublin as a single and then redeeming on Dublin to US routes will avoid that tax.
Avios said that “following extensive market research and feedback from Gold Circle members, key areas of improvement were identified”.
Avios identified these as:
- More availability of seats on Aer Lingus flights for purchase and upgrade
- Greater reward for short-haul flights
- Greater opportunities through partners across travel including Ireland, UK, Europe and the US
- Greater membership recognition across the network.
And, Avios is promising “a welcome bonus and a generous conversion of Gold Circle points into Avios”.
Gavin Halliday, Avios managing director, said: “The stance that we have adapted in conjunction with Aer Lingus is we are seeking to retain as many Gold Circle members as possible and give a welcome bonus and a generous conversion.”
A new tier membership structure will be introduced with Aer Club having four membership tiers – Green, Silver, Platinum and Concierge. Initial entry to each tier will depend on current tier membership points balance in Gold Circle members accounts.
Avios, like Aer Lingus, is part of IAG, which also owns British Airways, Iberia and Vuelling. It operates the global Avios currency for the BA Executive Club and Iberia Plus frequent flyer programmes as well as the Avios Travel Rewards programmes in the UK and South Africa.
Halliday said that Avios has seven million active members, with the aim to rise to 12 million by 2020, though he declined to say how many members the scheme has in Ireland.
He said that the company was determined to increase the redemption opportunities for members: “The fact that we are adding new airlines gives us a route network enhancement that’s quite significant. We are aiming to be a leader in travel rewards, finding ways for customers to discount their fares at three or four different tier levels speak to the spirit behind this.
“We’ve been working closely with the airlines to explore ways we can get more availability on aircraft. And there’s more availability this year than last year, and I can see there are more redemptions this year than last year. And it’s my job and the job of my team to continue that process.”