The Critical Points: A Bad Loyalty Program I Use but Don’t Understand

Dec 7, 2018

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Loyalty programs are everywhere in 2018, and just when I think I’ve joined them all, a new one pops up. Some programs and credit cards I’ve previously ignored have provided good value. Others are so incredibly lacking that I do not understand how — or if — they drive additional spending (the ultimate goal of a loyalty program) and how these third-party programs themselves remain in business.

The ‘Thanks Again’ program clearly falls in the latter of these two categories. While it has appeared at airports around the country, including my hometown Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International (ATL), it offers such poor returns that I cannot for the life of me understand how it makes money and how its footprint continues to expand.

‘Thanks Again’ Basics

The program works by awarding you one Thanks Again point per dollar spent at participating merchants within participating airports. You link your American Express®, MasterCard® or Visa® card (credit, debit or prepaid) and the app automatically recognizes when the card has been used at a participating merchant and awards you the requisite number of points.

Once you reach a minimum of 500 points, you can redeem them for gift cards or airline miles. Points are worth one cent each for Amazon, Uber and Lyft gift cards or gift cards from Alternatively, you can convert Thanks Again points into airline points/miles at a 1:0.5 ratio with Aeromexico, Alaska, American, Frontier or Southwest (e.g. 2,000 points = 1,000 Alaska miles). Finally, you can redeem your points at a 1:1 ratio for Fiesta Rewards, a poor-value, third-party awards program.

Thanks Again Problems

There are a few problems with the program that I’ve seen over the last 14 months of trying to use it. First is the redemption value if you use Thanks Again points for miles. In the above example, spending $2,000 at an airport would earn you 1,000 airline miles. Alaska miles are valued at 1.8 cents/mile meaning $2,000 in spend earns you miles worth $18 or a 0.9% return on your spend. This is not anywhere close to a level of return that would entice a consumer to spend additional money at an airport, where goods and services are already overpriced.

Next, the app has a special offers tab that seems good in theory. However, in the 14 months I’ve used it, I have never (not once) been offered any bonus points or savings for utilizing the app, regardless of which airport I’ve visited. For the first few months I used the app in 2017, I’d pop it open before heading to ATL to see if anything worthwhile was being offered as a special. After a few months of nothing, I stopped checking regularly. Whenever I’ve remembered to check since then, I’ve still never seen an offer to earn more than 1 point/$ at the airport:

Last, the program has constantly devalued. This is evident when you take a look at TPG’s original post covering the program in 2013. You used to be able to earn up to 10 hotel points or 5 airline miles per dollar spent during a sign-up promotion. If you were a business traveler that could pick up airport meal tabs or expense purchases from airport merchants, there was good incentive to spend some money. There were also special parking offers for free days, which I (personally) have never been seen since I started using the program. In other words, the program has gone from marginally useful to practically worthless in the span of just five years.

As a final note, the program’s terms and conditions state it may report your rewards to the IRS for tax consequences. That would be an unexpected hit come tax season, though I highly doubt anyone earns enough value from this program for it to be taxable.

What really isn’t adding up for me is when you consider these items alongside the fact that the program continues to earn more and more real estate and coverage at airports. This week when I returned from the TPG Awards, a new, two-story-tall banner has been plastered to the side of the Domestic North terminal at ATL (the program has been branded for each participating airport):

There are also countless posters, signs and banners in the terminals directing people to sign up and use the program, one which almost certainly drives no additional spend. In fact, I have found almost no one even familiar with the program. As I typically have a pretty well-tuned pulse on the public’s knowledge for loyalty programs, how can one with such little return on investment, constant devaluation and almost no public following continue to pay for and garner such real estate at the world’s busiest airport?

Bottom Line

The ‘Thanks Again’ program is (at its core) a really bad loyalty program, yet I still use it. Something is better than nothing, and 0.9 – 1% back for just linking my card is additional savings on airport parking — the only thing I ever spend money on at an airport. Certainly the program is not driving a sizable portion of passengers to spend more money on expensive airport vendors. Perhaps my mindset is what Thanks Again counts on.

My hope today is some of you are familiar with this program and can explain how it is seemingly profitable and doing well. As I continue to see more advertisements and literature about the program, I am still finding passengers and the points and miles community are ignorant of it and do not utilize it. Is there an “ah-ha!” moment I am missing? Does Thanks Again just have some incredible marketing that management at over 100 airports continues to accept? Maybe these managers are convinced that the program is driving additional revenue for their vendors, but I just don’t see it.

How does a program (which incentivizes nothing) continue to not only survive but increase its footprint?

Featured photo by Jeffrey Greenberg/UIG via Getty Images.

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