Loyalty Program Home Run: How Orbitz Rewards is Changing the Game

By: Elizabeth Clor

June 12, 2015

Tags:
CEM Programs
CEM Solutions
Customer Engagement
customer experience
customer experience management

Loyal customers are willing to spend more, pay a higher price, and go out of their way to be loyal to a brand. But according to Gartner research, over one-third of participants across retail sectors report never using the programs in which they are enrolled.

Orbitz Rewards, the loyalty program for online travel agency Orbitz.com, is breaking the mold. The American Customer Satisfaction Index named Orbitz the #1 travel website in overall customer satisfaction, and ranked Orbitz Rewards as the #1 travel rewards program. With a travel market flooded with rewards programs, that’s a pretty impressive distinction.

We chatted with Stacey Symonds, Sr. Director of Consumer Insights for Orbitz Worldwide, to get the backstory on the program’s success. At Orbitz, she partners with business leaders to integrate the voice of the customer into running the business as well as long-term strategy. She has worked on consumer insights and brand/marketing strategy in a variety of industries including automotive, retail, financial services and travel.

Sentiments: What are the key attributes of a successful loyalty program?

Symonds: Customers tell us that their ideal loyalty programs needs to be simple to understand, flexible in how you earn and redeem and fast to earn. These are also things that keep customers engaged in the program. If it is too complex, limited in scope and takes too long to earn rewards you risk losing their attention and interest.

Sentiments: What are your top priorities when it comes to the customer experience with your loyalty program?

Symonds: Our goal was to design Orbitz Rewards around those aspects of a successful loyalty program I just mentioned. We stayed true to this by having a simple $1=1 Orbuck calculation for earn and burn. There are no blackout dates or fees for Orbitz Rewards, and probably most importantly, your Orbucks are available immediately after earning them. They can be used instantly towards booking a hotel just like cash – no waiting to redeem.

Sentiments: How were you analyzing customer feedback data prior to Clarabridge? Once you deployed Clarabridge, how did that change?

Symonds: We have been conducting customer satisfaction studies at Orbitz for many years, but had a manual (and unreliable) coding process for our verbatims, had difficulty trending coded categories over time, and were not able to link these unstructured verbatims to our structured survey responses. Today using Clarabridge, we can easily see trending topics in unstructured feedback, quickly explore topics of interest among the verbatims, and examine what our customers say based on their structured data, such as looking at Detractors vs Promoters. We have even added a new verbatim question to our survey because we now have a way to easily operationalize and examine this feedback.

Sentiments: What’s been the biggest stride or achievement you’ve made in your loyalty program?

Symonds: As Orbitz Rewards has progressed since its launch in October 2013, our focus on continuous improvement has led us to simplify how we communicate about the program in email and on site and also update and improve our program benefits and tiers. We now have over 4 million members and have improved business metrics as well as Net Promoter Scores, so for us those are the most important things we’ve achieved so far.

Sentiments: What will attendees learn from your presentation at C3?

Symonds: At C3, attendees will travel with us as we re-live our journey to design, pilot and launch Orbitz Rewards. I’ll share the methods we used to deeply understand our customers’ needs from day 1 to today, and explain how we translated customer needs into actual elements of our program. Finally, they will get a glimpse of the results we’ve seen from Orbitz Rewards, which show that putting the customer at the center of program design can pay off in multiple ways.

When she’s not managing consumer insights, Stacey Symonds serves on the Advisory Board of the A. C. Nielsen Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Business, and is co-chair of the Advertising Research Foundation’s Shopper Insights Committee.

Don’t miss out on Stacey’s presentation at C3 in Miami on June 23—Taking the Road Less Traveled: Launching Orbitz Rewards.


Elizabeth Clor is the Sr. Director of Content Marketing and Communications at Clarabridge. In this role, she is responsible for solidifying Clarabridge’s position in the marketplace as the leading Customer Experience Management (CEM) technology vendor. Elizabeth has 17 years of experience in high-tech marketing and communications, and is a regular contributor to various marketing publications. She holds a B.A. of English from the University of Virginia.
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