Targeted Advertising Misses the Point

By The Columbia Chronicle

College students are constantly targeted by credit card companies, phone companies, and travel agencies as new customers. Now United Airlines is trying to establish itself with college students.

United is marketing United College Plus, a frequent flyer program for college students. United, joined by MCI Worldcom Inc. and First Card, will reward students with miles for using the two companies. If this program is successful many other airlines may follow suit.

United rewards students bonus miles for their first and third trips, purchasing tickets on-line, and signing up bonuses for MCI Calling Cards and First Card Visa. Travelers earn five miles for every dollar spent using the MCI card and one mile for every two dollars spent using the First Card. United is also offering bonus miles for student referrals. This along with actual miles flown are all added together. When a student reaches 25,000 miles they receive a free round trip in the United States.

United College Plus is also offering many of the same benefits of the regular frequent flyer programs: group rates, discounts on flights, and special dollar discounts on certain flights. After graduation, the program will transfer to the Mileage Plus plan which currently has over 23 million members.

This does not really seem to help Columbia students with their travel plans. Less than twenty percent of Columbia students are from out of state. This program could be useful to students who do travel a lot, but most other students are better off looking for low ticket prices.

Students would need to travel at least three times a year and earn all the bonus miles possible to get the free trip. What it does mean for Columbia students is more annoying advertising being handed out and stuffed into textbooks.

The First Card has no annual fee which is a good deal, but unless you charge more than $125 a month, the benefits of the program do not pay off. The MCI card seems to be the only useful part of the program for the majority of Columbia students. Many students who do not live at home use calling cards for everyday calls.

American Airlines offers “College SAAver” discount fares that are more in line with Columbia students’ needs. They provide flight discounts and zone fares. Students who travel once or twice a year are better off looking for these deals than going after a frequent flyer program.

Another option for Columbia students is to contact their local travel agent. Many agencies offer package deals for airfare and accommodation during priced airline ticket that is ideal for the once-a-year traveler.

Frequent-flyer programs are everywhere today and it makes sense to target college students. Most Columbia College students will just have to deal with bulk advertising for programs that do not benefit them while they are in school.