Frequent readers of this column know how highly I think of Southwest Airlines and how I like to look at their amazing business formula to see what new “LUV Airlines” innovations might be applicable for us in the gaming industry. 

And, boy, have I picked up a lot from Southwest over the years; not just from flying with them a few hundred times, but also from reading several of the books that have been written about the Southwest “DNA.”

The Southwest employee culture is phenomenal. The simplicity of their business formula—short haul, same type of planes, simple processes, etc.—is instructive. The value that Southwest continues to bring to us, whether it is in the form of bags “flying free,” no cancellation or change fees, or frequent fare specials, helps to explain why Southwest has always been profitable, while other airlines struggle.

I haven’t written about Southwest for a few years, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been watching them closely every time I fly. They have revamped their Rapid Rewards program to reward spending rather than just numbers of flights. The free drink tickets earned have more restrictions and earlier expiration dates (can someone explain to me why you can’t use a drink ticket to purchase a Monster energy drink?). Southwest fares have inched up. There are now long-haul flights. And there are fewer crossword puzzles and more casino ads in Spirit magazine, Southwest’s in-flight publication. Oh yeah, and the coffee on Southwest flights has gotten better.

Then there are the Southwest touches that seemingly never change: the quick gate turnarounds; the super friendly employees; who truly care and often seek to entertain; and the extensive and meaningful Southwest activities and commitments to all of the communities that Southwest serves. Yes, Southwest has some new, and some old, but what a great company.

I used to fly enough on Southwest to be on the “A-List,” but for the last two or three years, I haven’t had those privileges. Current A-List privileges include priority boarding, priority check-in and security line access, a 25 percent earning bonus, a dedicated A-List member phone line, and standby priority.

Hey, this sounds just like a casino players club! Spend more and we’ll take care of you!

I have missed my A-List benefits, especially when I see close friends and business associates board a Southwest flight well ahead of me (yes, there is a big difference in an A-21 and a B-43 boarding pass). But recently, Southwest sent me an e-mail offering me a three-month temporary A-List status. Yeah, happy days are here again, and I’m back to the front of the line!

To keep my A-List status beyond the three-month trial period, all I have to do is fly three Southwest roundtrip flights (or earn 8,000 Tier Qualifying Points) in the three months. That’s roughly a once-a-month flying rate (25 one-way flights in a calendar year) to earn and maintain A-List status.

In casino marketing terms, Southwest has identified me as a “Fader,” a former high product user, who, for whatever reason, hasn’t flown as much recently. I am a “Known Customer of Known Worth” (to use one of my own terms) and appear to show excellent potential to return to past consumption patterns. And it was incredibly inexpensive for Southwest to send me that offer.

But what really matters in this Southwest marketing example is that they made me an offer that I really care about—improving the convenience of my flight experience. And therein lies the lesson for casino marketers.

What do your former top-tier players really care about that might get them to return to past spending patterns? I know we often think that we have to focus on “more”—more cash back, more food comps, more free play. But I think Southwest shows us so magnificently that it really is all about “more of what matters to the guest.”

So the next time you are thinking of a 10X points promotion, remember that your fading or inactive guests might really want a line pass, a closer parking spot, a special card, or a little more attention from the GM.

 And what does any of that cost you?