Customer Loyalty Won:  Customer Loyalty Lost

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For decades three things have been consistent in my life:  Starbucks Coffee, United Airlines, and Marriott Hotels –  only because they aren’t more Westins.

If you are offering a customer loyalty program, rewards have to be fairly earned and easily redeemed when the targets have been reached. Unfortunately, neither the loyalty programs of Starbucks or United meet those benchmarks.

If a customer loyalty program if not structured properly it may result in customers leaving. In my case, Starbucks: done, finished, never again. Why?

Over the holidays, Starbucks ran an online game Starbucks for Life! for early December through January 8, 2018. Promised with “you will earn a gameplay every time you make a qualifying purchase at participating Starbucks® stores with your registered Starbucks Card or, your Starbucks Card registered on your App**. Limit 2 earned game plays per day. You can earn even more plays by completing challenges.” I completed 14 of the 17 challenges.

After spending over $150, I won three ten bonus stars valued at $0.96. My bad luck? Perhaps not. In an email exchange with a leading savant at PGA Headquarters, they visit Starbucks five out of every seven days and won nothing – zilch, nada, zero, diddly squat. The Starbucks contest wasn’t fair, and I haven’t visited since – surprisingly without any headaches saving the $150 I was spending monthly.

Perhaps even more frustrating, because of the materiality of the award redemption, is United Airlines SAVER AWARDS for FUTURE TRAVEL when attempting to secure a business or first class flight Internationally.

Airline flights are made available 335 days in advance of the flight. Like Lufthansa, United posts NO SAVER AWARDS until about 14 days before the flight on their airline. They will post occasionally a SAVER AWARD on Star Alliance Partners for International travel, but the domestic portion is “economy” on United.

I use my miles for my wife to travel pro bono while my strong preference is to purchase a FULL FARE economy ticket and use miles to upgrade it to business or first class. Why? If I reach 3.0 million miles, it increases the probability of receiving complimentary domestic flight upgrades. Travel made on Star Alliance carries DOES NOT count toward the UAL mileage target.

The attached letter will document the frustration experienced in trying to redeem rewards as a 2.8 million mile flyer. After searching daily from March 30, 2017, to July 7, 2017, we purchased for nearly $4,000 two tickets from DEN to OGG. SAVER AWARDS where only released within the last 14 days of travel. The hours spent searching for the rewards was mind-numbing.

Concerning Starbucks (#STarbucks) and United (#United, #UAL), am I being unreasonable? It should be noted that most customer loyalty programs are masked as “discount programs.” Please comment below after reading the correspondence. Thank you.

For taking a moment to read about my frustrating experience, there is one golf management company that has marvelously crafted a loyalty program that even incorporates yield management principles.  A single golf course would be wise to emulate.   The firm is Troon Golf. Here is their rewards chart:


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