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Yesterday was my birthday, whoop whoop. That means thanks to customer data, some companies have been in touch to send positive messages or try to sell me things of all sorts. Some companies I engage with heavily also haven’t sent anything at all.

Womp, womp.

For amusement and a bit of research, I really paid attention to the travel brand birthday messages this year with an intent to think about how they made me feel. Did they make me more likely to engage, less likely, or totally apathetic to the brand as a result?

This time around there was a clear winner and also, loser.

Birthday Marketing Email Winner: Delta

This year I felt like Delta SkyMiles was playing chess while everyone else was playing checkers. Delta didn’t just email me ON my birthday. Instead, the airline emailed me over two months before, then the month before — and then on my birthday, planting a brilliant seed with each touch.

“Gilbert, don’t forget to book your birthday trip” read the subject line a month ago and I couldn’t help but engage. When I did, I found a $25 e-credit if I booked a flight before March 10th. That call to action actually tied back to the first email I’d overlooked which was “your birthday gift is here” about two months beforehand.

a screenshot of a cellphone

I may still take them up on that, particularly after the friendly actual Happy Birthday note, which was about trip inspiration. It just asked me where I’d go and shared some fun destination ideas to ponder.

What was brilliant about this is that the email 100% made me think about actually taking a getaway on or around my birthday — with enough time to plan — and even created a call to action, with a $25 discount if I chose to act on it.

To be honest, I hadn’t even really pondered anything yet so it did actually plant the thought.

Again, and I think this is important — the emails were well worded to not be too “sales-y” and instead just focused on how much fun it is to trade a staycation for a vacation and shared some trending places to think about. Tokyo, nice call!

Maybe a bit overkill, but Delta also uses the email to co-market to their partner Starbucks who also offer a special birthday treat. The rest of the email was so good that I didn’t particularly care, since there was at least a value-add from Starbucks as part of that call to action.

Birthday Marketing Email Losers: British Airways

British Airways and Virgin Atlantic are the two airlines I spend the most with, engage the most with and hold top tier elite status with. They’re also two airlines I didn’t hear from on my birthday.

Virgin gets a pass because they send members 2,000 points on their birthday by default, so even though I didn’t get a message I got something kind of better and if they’d emailed to let me know (most people don’t know they do this) it’d be pretty good.

Which leaves British Airways, who did nothing.

I’ve held top tier with the airline for the better part of a decade, spent millions of points, signed up for co-branded credit cards and all the works.

a large airplane flying over a runway

I mention this solely for one point: they have my info.

When people take things to a great level you can’t help but notice those who don’t. There are many, many airlines I didn’t hear from on my birthday and nor did I expect to. They don’t factor into my typical travels and they probably know it.

I’m not thinking less of Swiss Airlines for not sending a note because I don’t really engage with them. No offense, Swiss, love your work.

On the other hand, I am not a regular Aegean flyer but they reached out and yes, it absolutely it made me think about booking my next Santorini trip. There is power in the connection between travel brands and a desire to travel.

But just like friends, when the airline you think you have the strongest relationship with is one of the few that ghosts you, it really shows up when so many are vying for your attention. Particularly, when they start well before your actual birthday.

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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  1. In my experience, there’s been no better & more consistent Happy Birthday wishes than from MGM & Las Vegas in general. Which honestly makes perfect sense

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