Introducing Switchfly's Podcast - Travel Buddy



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Welcome to Travel Buddy

The "Travel Buddy" podcast's inaugural episode, presented by Switchfly, features hosts James and Ian sharing their passion for travel and personal experiences. The podcast explores Switchfly's role as a loyalty travel platform, bridging travel services and loyalty programs. It discusses the differences between employee rewards and customer loyalty, emphasizing emotional connections. The hosts also touch on strategic planning for optimizing travel experiences and costs.


Welcome to Travel Buddy, presented by Switchfly. In this podcast, we talk about all things travel, rewards, and loyalty. Let’s get to it.

James, Ian, so glad for you guys to join me on The Travel Buddy podcast presented by Switchfly. This is the first episode of our podcast, the first episode of the year in early 2024. So excited to talk to you guys about travel. So tell the audience a little bit about yourselves. James Ian, who are you? Why are you here? Why are we here today?

Hey, really excited to be here, joined the organization about two years ago. Really excited to be part of a brand and experience that gets to touch travel. Something that almost all of us look forward to. I know I do it regularly, whether for work or leisure. And really excited to talk about not just the business side of it, how do things work? Where is the industry going? How does Switchfly play in? But also, share your personal experiences, some travel hacks, and just really get to lean into kind of this gateway to different cultures. Seeing the world through different perspectives and hopefully passing along a little wisdom and a little insight along the way.

Awesome. James, you, I know you’re an avid traveler. We’ve talked before. Where’s your favorite place you’ve ever been and why?

For me, I keep going back to Lima, Peru. I’ve got a lot of close relationships down there, but it’s also a gateway to a continent that I think is really underrated in terms of South America. So the most geographic diversity as well as cultural food. And you can do it on a budget without feeling the pinch of having to pick between a five-star or four-star.

I like that. I like that. I love a good five-star. Oh man, Ian, so tell us about yourself.

Hi, my name’s Ian Anderson. I’ve been an industry nomad a bit throughout my career. I’ve been in the military for 15 years now, both active duty and in the reserves. And then I got into project management, into marketing, which all led down the trail to coming to Switchfly. I had worked with James previously and we’d always worked well together, so he brought me in to help and it’s been quite an experience just getting to know the travel industry, travel rewards industry. I’ve been here for a while. It’s been an experience and it’s also something I love on a personal level, like James. So we’ve had a really good time getting to blend our personal preferences and personal habits and stuff like that into what we do. We’re interested in each other of, "Hey, this looks cool," or "that’s interesting." And it just makes things a lot more fun when you can work on something you enjoy as well.

I love that. I love that. So assuming given your military background, you’ve traveled quite a bit. You like to travel, where have you been that you just always think

So I think, yeah, I have been. I’ve been to five different continents and all over the world.

The most unexpected enjoyment I think I’ve had at a place was in Budapest, Hungary. I love Southern Europe as far as I’m a big history geek. I really get into the history of it, but I don’t know, sometimes it can feel a little too packaged, and Northern Europe, by contrast, can feel like another American town with a different language on the signs.

Budapest was just the perfect mix of the north and south.

I’ve heard Croatia, Istanbul, and a couple of other places that are just really neat, kind of off the beaten path of what typical Americans think of when they travel. Very cool. Okay, okay, let’s set a little bit of context here. There’s going to be a lot of people listening that are industry pros. They’re in the travel industry, they’re in the rewards industry, the HR industry, whatever that might be. and then there’s going to be a mix of people that don’t, just people we know that are listening to the show. So what is Switchfly and what makes it unique?

Yeah, Switchfly is a loyalty travel eCommerce. Switchfly sits in the corner of a bunch of spaces where we take the disorganization and package it into an out-of-the-box white label travel experience. So if you’re a credit card startup, you’ve got card numbers, you’ve got people spending, we’re really the glue that ties all of the travel sources, flight, hotel, car activities, and glues them together and then supports it with travel management. If you need to hop in, extend your stay, need to be on a different hotel experience, we can do that through our platform. We take all these great experiences for world-class and world-leading inventory and deploy them where and how the brands that we partner with want to be able to encourage, not just travel, but also the experience from page load to plane load, for their members, regardless of the relationship, whether it’s a cardholder, an employee, or just a customer that likes to buy from them.

Okay, so what I’m understanding is it’s like a bolt-on rewards platform, but it just happens to be with travel. So if you don’t have a travel rewards platform, boom, we’ll manage everything. Is that correct?

Exactly. We are the brand with the members and the points. We’re the organization that brings in our travel inventory and the support that goes along with it.

Which, from what you told me before is very hard to do for a, they don’t have an entire travel…

Yeah, we could have an entire podcast series on how to set up your own online travel agency or OTA with all the headaches and pitfalls that are involved in that. But long story short, Switchfly takes the heavy lifting. Plus, the over 20 years we have in the business, the hundreds of millions in investment we have into the platform and the people, and really just making an easy button.

I know there’s a lot of cool features and components of Switchfly that are really worth talking about, but before we get there, I wanted to talk about some terms. So I think there’s a lot of terms and lingo that we’ll be throwing around on the show, and one of them I know we’ve been wanting to get to is what is the difference between employee rewards or employee loyalty and customer rewards or customer loyalty? Is there a difference? What’s going on in that world?

The customer rewards versus customer loyalty definitions are essentially the same thing. Just the connotation I think between the terms is what differentiates them. If I am a customer and I have a certain credit card, and the more I use that credit card, the more I build up points, that is essentially a customer rewards or customer loyalty program. The difference is rewards brings a transactional connotation, right? I go do something, I get a reward. Loyalty implies something a little more emotional, right? That I am not only going to use my specific credit card or shop at the specific store, whatever it is, I’m going to tell my friends about it. I’m going to be a brand advocate. I’m going to really get involved with their marketing efforts, their operations, whatever. And then, you’ll be rewarded for that loyalty if, uh, it’s a little more deeper on an emotional level, but essentially they’re the same thing, or at least very similar. And they can be used because of that connotation. They can be used to achieve what the company’s looking for at a time. Every company wants that kind of loyalty base in their customers.

I’ll oftentimes, especially coming out of the last couple of years, the rewards can jump the shark and be considered a loyalty program. The loyalty is all the intangibles too, like the experience I have when I am not consuming. How many times am I gonna fly to here, even if I’m flying 250,000 miles a year, which is insane. Very few people actually hit that metric. You’re still only on the flight, what, part of a day for part of a week. The loyalty is everything before and after as well. And we’re in an interesting point in the evolution of travel this decade where leisure travel is still generally leading the business travel side. Business travel has been slow to thaw for a lot of reasons. One, because we all have multiple years now of working remotely largely, the industry is moving into a space where up to half or more of the world can work from home, whereas on the leisure side, travel has gone up year after year in terms of cost. Experiences have been all over the map. A couple years ago a lot of people didn’t get to their holiday destination because of a literal technology meltdown. Those consequences or waves are long-ranging. You get burnt once and a lot of the McKinsey data says people are willing to switch brands over that.

Yeah, there’s a report we were talking about this morning before we started recording, and it says that millennials are most impacted by disruptions, with 42% switching their airline loyalty because of a significant delay or cancellation. That’s tough for a brand to feel like they’ve gotta nail this every time or I’m gonna have people jump ship. So that loyalty is so key in so many different ways ’cause the more loyalty you can create, obviously, the more grace that people will have with your brand.

A hundred percent. There was also a related McKinsey study that showed it takes less than two bad customer experiences for that customer to jump ship, which is figuring out in that 42% number.

I think most often in the employment space, but definitely in the consumer space as well, of that transition of the way kind of things used to be, so to speak of. And there’s been this transition, especially over the last 20 years, I think away from where the value comes from. I think, for example, you know my grandpa, my great-grandfather, they put their time in at Ford back in the early fifties. They’d worked there for 40-something years and they got this nice, beautiful clock, and that mentality of, "I’m gonna go in, I’m gonna put my time in." And I think the same applies on the consumer side as well, not just with your employer. And there’s been a transition away from that of who deserves the loyalty, right? Is it the company that you work for, that you buy from, or are they the ones that truly deserve the loyalty? I think Gen X really started it, but then millennials took off with it and now Gen Z has never known anything different of who is actually the value add here and should they be the ones getting the loyalty. And I think that’s where you see a lot of those, like, those few bad customer experiences, I’m gonna jump ship to your competitor because I have so many more options and I also recognize I don’t need you, right? That you need me. We’ve all had bad experiences and I know the companies that jump through hoops to make it right. Immediately I’ll go back to them for something else because we’re not done. Like, I have bad days, right? I mess things up all the time. But it’s how you fix it that really matters. And I think it’s taken a while for brands to come to grips with, oh, I need to put customer success, customer support at the forefront to really drive that loyalty. And now we have a couple of generations of this going on. This is the way it’s gonna be. And with especially with the technological advances we’ve had over the last year, much less 10, 15 years, it’s just gonna keep going more in that personalization and options direction that is gonna be brand agnostic to some degree.

Yeah, we’re in a low trust environment, so we’re brand agnostic. We’re willing to switch. No problem. I think that’s really important.

Well, and a macro case study and one or two anecdotes. Like we saw that with Delta when they announced their loyalty changes last September, October, and quickly had to roll back some of the more aggressive bits of that because they were just hemorrhaging these premium people with a million miles with that brand. They were willing to walk across the street for a loyalty match or like a status match because they’re the big dog. They’re leading that travel, they’re leading that space in their category. But it was such an aggressive rollback from kind of standard loyalty offerings for last year that they had to say, oops. And I was just on a layover talking to a million miler who, his whole career, he has flown Delta. He is moving to Qatar Airways because it was half the price for business class for an international flight.

Oh, Qatar Airways.

But he was working side by side. I will give it to Qatar Airways, definitely best in class in terms of offerings and amenities on a flight. But he was like, "Hey, 15,000 to go from A to B in Southeast Asia, it’s 7,500 to do the same flight with Qatar. I can’t justify this." And I know which brand I’m gonna be loyal to and which brand I probably will never use again.

Yeah, and I think a lot of brands are trying to get it right on the employee side and the customer side, but it is really tricky. But I want to, in the remainder of all the episodes we’ve got coming up, get into some of these issues because I think it is, and why I’m excited about the show is there are so many different components that are all kind of converging on the travel industry right now. COVID and remote work and like you’re saying, business travel, but then there’s that leisure travel that is exploding right now, and it’s only going to grow. There was a report that came out this morning on the state of travel for 2024, and they said that tons of people are still planning to travel a lot, even though the price is going way up and it’s not the golden opportunity of travel that it was a couple of years ago. But then you’ve got personalization and privacy and the changes in advertising or tracking or, there’s just so many things going on right now. And so this is a really exciting time to be talking about all this. So I’m really excited to dive into all of those different topics as we keep going on this show.

In some ways, it’s never been easier to travel in terms of, I remember being international in a country I didn’t speak the language, pre-smartphone. Absolutely terrifying.


Yeah, like I survived it. Obviously, I’m here, but fast forward to being able to step off a plane. I have a translator in my pocket. I have Google Maps. I have Google Translate. I don’t know how many times I’ve been in Mexico or somewhere and I can usually kind of muddle my way through Spanish, but sometimes it’s so easy to just pull up your phone and take a picture and immediately have it translated for you. That alone is game-changing.

I did it last September. We went to San Diego for a conference and my wife and I went out a few days early and stayed a few extra days, like pre and post-conference, just because it would cost less than half for us than if we were to go do that ourselves. It’s a wild time, and believe me, like getting into this industry a little over a year ago and seeing even the changes from then to now are just wild, right? Because when I started at Switchfly, I was still in that post-COVID haze, really coming out of it. But we are now firmly out of that post-post-pandemic. Just the travel industry is going wild, right? The statistics we’re pulling up around Christmas of the people traveling over the holidays. There were records set for air, hotel, train, bus, cruises. Pretty much every sector was setting records for the number of customers during that holiday window.

It’s amazing.

We were also talking before we hopped on about this idea of kind of calendar hacking. I know we’re gonna share the details, but just the idea of like, how can I get the most out of almost any month of the calendar just by being strategic even with where I’m taking time off. It’s nothing that’s definitely legal. This is super white hat, but being able to strategically approach the calendar where, you know, like February 20th to 23rd, that’s another nine days of PTO. But I’m only burning three vacation days, however that’s measured in an organization. Plus, if in one of these shoulder seasons or lower times of the year seasonally in North America, January to April or January to early March is pretty quiet, right? There’s not a lot of competition. The airports are quiet. Another great time is Halloween. Apparently, it’s the most dead I’ve ever seen several airports flying home last year.

Yeah, and my wife and I did the same thing. Thanksgiving is that international travel hack. There’s a handful of places on Earth that pay attention to that week. You just go somewhere that is a little less observant. For us, it was Columbia last year. It was awesome, beautiful country, great time of year to be there and you don’t have the bustle, the holiday hotel competition, all of that. So for sure, I had, it’s just one of those, especially at the start of the year, you’re starting to think like, where are we gonna go for X or Y or what do we do with the kids this summer? There’s a lot of creativity you can introduce and a lot of opportunities to try and optimize for cost and experience without having to take out a home loan or sell an organ to be able to go somewhere.

That’s right.

Yeah, think about that. So President’s Day is coming up here on February 19th, it’s on a Monday. Nobody travels on President’s Day. That’s not a travel day, whereas Memorial Day or July 4th or something, that’s a travel day, but President’s Day, you take that day off your last day of work is February 16th, and if you take the rest of the week off, including President’s Day, you’re not back to work until Monday the 26th. You get nine days of just total relaxation to go anywhere you want. And I’m sure it’s cheaper to travel in February ’cause nobody’s traveling in February. My wife and I, our favorite time of travel is around Thanksgiving because it’s just dead. So you go to Paris for 400 bucks and you get a week to yourself, nobody’s there. It’s great, man.

Sounds good.

Thank you, Brandon.

Sounds good.


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