The airline customer loyalty model: A relational approach to understanding antecedents of customer loyalty in the airline industry

Judith Benner

Student thesis: Master thesis


The objective of this thesis is to contribute to the understanding of drivers of customer loyalty by exploring the dynamics of customer‐brand relationships and the role they play for the creation and management of customer loyalty in the airline industry. The particular relevance of the research objective arises from the intensification of competition in the airline industry and the extensive consolidation that is expected to accompany it. These market challenges make the retention of valuable customers an essential prerequisite for the achievement of a sustainable competitive advantage and, hence, the airline’s overall success. Relevant literature from related fields, such as relationship and service marketing, form the foundation for the development of the conceptual airline customer loyalty (ACL) model. Centered on the concept of relational benefits, this model depicts important antecedents to customer loyalty in the airline industry. Relational benefits are thereby defined as benefits customers receive as a result of their engagement in customer‐brand relationships. In the course of this study, three types of relational benefits are identified as bearing relevance for the airline industry: social, psychological, and functional benefits. The ACL model is empirically tested employing structural equation modeling on primary data collected from an online survey with 276 participants. The results reveal that three distinct paths to airline customer loyalty can be distinguished with each being characterized by one of the observed relational benefits. Accordingly, they are defined as the social, the psychological, and the functional path to airline customer loyalty. Each path originates from distinct brand performance characteristics, moves along the respective type of relational benefits, and results in customer loyalty either directly and/or mediated by the dimensions of relationship quality – customer satisfaction and relationship commitment. Managerial implications on how to manage airline customer loyalty are inferred along these three paths, accentuating the particular relevance of social‐psychological aspects of customer‐brand relationships for the management of airline customer loyalty. By combining important brand‐ and relationship‐related concepts, this thesis provides a holistic perspective on the management of customer loyalty in the airline industry that has to date been missing.

EducationsMSc in Brand and Communications Management, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2009
Number of pages147