Airlines to mine customer data in marketing drive

BERLIN - Airlines are waking up to the possibilities offered by the reams of customer data they have on file and will use this to make more targeted offers in the future, two of the world's largest carriers said.

"The airlines know so much more about individual customers, it's such an exciting opportunity," Michael O'Leary, the chief executive of low-cost carrier Ryanair, said at a travel conference in Berlin on Thursday.

The airline has set up Ryanair Labs, which it describes as a digital and innovation hub to help exploit its growing base of customer data. Lufthansa, meanwhile, is investing in an innovation hub in Berlin.

Airlines have been slow to make the most of their customer data, such as from frequent flyer programmes. "I used to say the ideal customer is someone with a credit card and pulse and that the credit card was more important, but I have completely revised that view," Mr O'Leary said.

He said Ryanair wanted to use the information it has on how often people travel, where to and who with, to make targeted offers, such as discounts on weekend breaks to a couple with children once the school holidays are over.

Tim Clark, president of Dubai-based Emirates, said it was planning a similar strategy. "We will drill and mine the data of every passenger," he said.

He said knowing more about passengers and being able to track them more efficiently would allow airlines to communicate with passengers in real time.

Mr O'Leary also said airlines could make real-time offers to passengers via smart devices, such as allowing them to buy fast-track access through security if they see long queues, or sending them a discount voucher for taxis when they step out of the terminal.