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Ticket Sales
Frequent Skier Cards: Driver of Incremental Sales or Confusing Bonus System?

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Back in Utah, one of my favorite casual restaurants was Cafe Rio. Besides a crazy tasty sweet pork burrito (enchilada style, black beans, mild sauce), they had a simple frequent-customer rewards system: buy 10 meals, get one free.

It was hard to not understand how it worked. If your little card had a punch on every number 1-10, you could use it for a free meal (at which point the entire crew would shout “free meal” to prove your awesomeness to the entire restaurant), a desire that determined our choice of eatery more than once. To contrast, I have a ton of Subway points I’ve never used simply because I have no idea how they accumulate or when they actually provide me any value.

When I look around at many resorts frequent skier cards, like my Subway experience, I get lost in a long list of rules, up front prices, days valid, and systems. Let’s take a look.

Pay Now, Discount Later
Basic Rules: Buy the card for $XX.XX, get XX% off (or $XX discount) every time you buy a ticket.
Example: Sunapee

Pay Now, Increasing Discount Later
Basic Rules: Buy the card for $XX.XX, get an increasing XX% off (or $XX discount) each additional time you buy a ticket.
Example: Okemo

Pay Now for “Free” Ticket, Discount Later
Basic Rules: Buy the card for $XX.XX, get a “free” ticket, plus a XX% off (or $XX discount) each time you buy a ticket.
Example: Sunday River

Pay Now forTicket, Discount + Free Days Later
Basic Rules: Buy the card for $XX.XX, get XX% off (or $XX discount) each time you buy a ticket and ski for free on certain dates.
Example: Big Sky

My Question
I really like the idea of getting people to put some some money into it early and commit, but I’m wondering why “ski X days, get 1 free” is so rare and “pay XX now for $XX off one day and $XX off another day…” is so common? Why every person that comes to your ticket window, just like Cafe Rio, isn’t handed a frequent skier card?

The simplicity of other industries systems seems to let you tweak the motivation, like the classic car-wash story, without adding another layer of complexity:

“Not long ago, in a major metropolitan area, two consumer researchers named Joseph Nunes and Xavier Drèz conducted a customer loyalty experiment at a local car wash.

On two consecutive Saturdays, they gave out a total of 300 customer loyalty cards. Half of those required 8 purchases to earn a free car wash. The other half required 10, but instead of requiring the full 10, the car wash gave 2 car wash head-start as a free bonus.

This means, in both scenarios, customers still needed to make 8 additional purchases before they could redeem a free car wash. The only difference was varying degrees of completeness. On one hand, customers were 0% complete, and on the other, they were 20% complete.

Now the question is, would this “artificial” progress increase customer loyalty?

During the next 9 months, 28 out of 150 people without a head-start earned a free car wash, but 51 out of 150 people with the head-start earned a free car wash. That’s an increase of 82%.”

Fill me in here. Am I missing something in the data or are we hurting performance by making our frequent skier cards a little too complicated?

About Gregg & SlopeFillers
I've had more first-time visitors lately, so adding a quick "about" section. I started SlopeFillers in 2010 with the simple goal of sharing great resort marketing strategies. Today I run marketing for resort ecommerce and CRM provider Inntopia, my home mountain is the lovely Nordic Valley, and my favorite marketing campaign remains the Ski Utah TV show that sold me on skiing as a kid in the 90s.

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