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In yet another sign that meetings are driving major business to travel suppliers, United Airlines will debut a meetings portal today as part of its Jetstream web offering. The move follows a Delta Air Lines meetings push in 2016 that allowed corporate clients to associate or separate their meetings air spend from transient spend and to avail meeting attendees of corporate transient discounts and preferred benefits. United executives told BTN their platform allows for all that, plus. "United Meetings goes beyond what our competitors are doing," said SVP of worldwide sales Jake Cefolia.
Among the selling points of the portal is what United refers to as the "discount in a day" feature, which allows a meeting organizer to register a meeting within the United portal and receive discount offers within 24 hours. "We now have the ability to make these discounts flexible," said Cefolia. "The more information we have [about the account] and the more we know about the nature of the meeting and demand on our flights, we are willing to offer flexible discounts." Once a meeting organizer accepts a discount offer, he or she will receive a promo code to distribute to meetings attendees.
If the user already has a corporate transient agreement with the airline, United will connect that information to the meeting behind the scenes to realize the transient discount. The airline will also take the onus of capturing all the corporate bookings in the date range and with likely city pairs to credit to the meeting account for reward purposes, without collecting additional information or requiring any special forms from the meeting organizer. Travelers under the meetings code will also receive United's Corporate Preferred benefits.
"Is it possible that one or two [transient bookings] will get in there when they aren't technically tied to the meeting?" posed Cefolia. "Yes, but we think that will be pretty rare."
The meetings portal will offer users meeting accounts and dashboard capabilities that will show active and historical meetings, as well as air booking activity on each discount promo code, and will credit spend volume to the user's account as attendee segments are flown. That volume credit translates into what United calls "amenity funds," which have been a feature of the Jetstream portal for corporate accounts since it launched in 2017.
The more information we have [about the account] and the more we know about the nature of the meeting and demand on our flights, we are willing to offer flexible discounts."
Amenity funds are the basis for United's self-service upgrades and benefits. "Rather than contracting those benefits upfront, the value is loaded and people can choose what they want in real time," explained United managing director of sales effectiveness Karen Catlin. She cited beverage coupons, seat upgrades, travel certificates, United Club passes and MileagePlus status as examples of what users can "purchase" with those soft-dollar accounts. "That flexibility has been a huge benefit," she added, and one that is now extended to meeting organizers.
United has structured a couple of account configurations to get visibility into enterprise meetings activity. An enterprise account can have multiple users with several levels of permissions. Currently, only the person who signs the meetings portal agreement has access to the amenity funds, though others may or may not be able to see the accrued value, depending on their permissions levels. United can bulk upload user names and assign permissions to them. Catlin said United was accustomed to this since Jetstream was also designed for agencies that have many users on a single account. On the other hand, corporate clients may want to give departments or individuals oversight of their own meetings activity within their own meetings portal account. "We want the corporation to be able to choose how to set it up," she said.
Flexible rewards and account configuration are the vision for the entire Jetstream portal and all the products and services United plans to hang off that self-service hub. It's not a vision that is entirely achieved at this point, according to director of sales systems Marlene Garcia. In Jetstream's current state, corporate and meeting amenity accounts are separate.
"We had a meeting [last] week to talk about a future state," said Garcia. "We have added meetings now, and what we want to design is the ability [for customers] to earn separately and track separately but have one [amenity] bank with different accounts so they can transfer funds to different types of accounts and access what they need when they need it." Rather than rolling more products into Jetstream now, Garcia said United would focus on architecting the tools to achieve that more holistic fund management vision.
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