AirAsia launches loyalty scheme to boost sales

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AirAsia Chief Executive Tony Fernandes poses with a BIG Visa prepaid card during its launch in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Monday, Nov. 14, 2011. He said the Southeast Asia's largest budget carrier hopes to make 500 million ringgit ($160 million) in additional sales annually from 2012 with its new global loyalty scheme. Fernandes said members can earn points when traveling and shopping, and redeem those points for free air tickets and other rewards. (AP Photo/Lai Seng Sin)

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Southeast Asia's largest budget carrier AirAsia hopes to bolster sales by another 500 million ringgit ($160 million) annually with the launch Monday of a passenger rewards program, Chief Executive Tony Fernandes said.

Fernandes said the "BIG" scheme would help fill up an average 20 percent of seats on AirAsia flights that are unsold. He said the loyalty card would also double as a prepaid debit card with a tie-up with VISA.

Members earn points when traveling and shopping, and can redeem those points for free air tickets and other rewards, he said.

"It's a great way to get more people to fly. From 2012, this will generate (an additional) 500 million ringgit in sales," he told a news conference. AirAsia hopes to attract 1 million loyalty members by mid-2012, officials said.

The launch of the program comes as AirAsia and other airlines face pressure from soaring fuel costs. AirAsia reported a 48 percent drop in net profit to 104.3 million ringgit ($33 million) in the quarter through June.

Fernandes said results for the quarter through September, to be released next week, would be "very strong." He said AirAsia wasn't affected by the severe flooding in Thailand and that there was still a huge appetite for low-cost travel in Asia despite the weak global economy.

AirAsia expects to benefit from an alliance with national carrier Malaysia Airlines in August through a share swap deal to end their long rivalry. Under the deal, Malaysia Airlines will focus on the premium market and cede low-cost routes to AirAsia.