How airlines track your travel and spending habits
The global airline industry contributes $664.4 billion to global GDP. Over three billion passengers fly each year accompanies by 50 million tons of freight. 
Airlines do struggle do stay profitable. News of major airline mergers and acquisitions never comes as a surprise. Airlines obviously generate revenue from tickets sales. Anyone who flies knows, carriers take in quite a bit of cash by charging steep fees for checked baggage. Even bare bones that offer low fares soak customers’ wallets for everything from printing a boarding pass at the airport to bringing a coat on board.
So how else do airlines make money? Just like Facebook and Google, that have come under fire for relentlessly track and use people’s data to increase revenue, airlines track your every move too.
It all begins with your ticket or contract of carriage. Your carrier sold you a ticket and the data tracking and upselling began right there. After buying a ticket, a traveler typically is peppered with targeted emails. Offers that contain products and services offers for services like currency exchange, begin long before the trip.
Airline Apps Mine Data
Did you download your airline’s mobile app so you could get notifications about your flight or use a mobile boarding pass? Well, the airlines track you there too! Mobile app usage opens up a larger realm of customer behavior tracking for the airline as it adds a layer of data with location tracking data.
Newark (EWR) airport terminal C and A are both loaded with lots of seating. Each seat is accompanied by a tablet ordering kiosk mounted on the table. Food and drinks can be ordered and are delivered quickly to wherever you are sitting. Very cool! A few taps, swipe a payment card, and your order is on its way. My breakfast was swiftly delivered within 10 minutes of me tapping a few buttons.
The convenient ordering kiosk prompts you to scan your boarding pass to begin the ordering press. This is optional, and my advice is to skip this step. This boarding pass swipe is used to push flight status notifications to the tablet you are seated at. I never do this! Again, more tracking for you and more data for them! Plus, it’s just creepy.
So why the boarding pass? Although you will receive real time updates about your flight, it’s also more behavior tracking. Very simple. Combine that with data from the app and the credit card you issue used, there is a wealth of data harvested.
Airline Branded Credit Cards
The kiosk messaging encourages you to use your United branded card to receive a handsome 20% discount on the entire purchase. I cannot pass on that offer since my two eggs, toast, handful of lettuce leaves, and cappuccino set me back $20 USD. Social media channels like Facebook use credit card purchase histories to build audiences and then use that aggregate data to sell advertising space on their platform.
Using my United Airlines branded credit card at their east coast hub kiosk while I’m logged into the app supplies crazy amounts of information about my airport habits! I like to arrive at the airport early. I go to a lounge or patronize a restaurant while I wait. Yes, the app can track that too. I always buy the same snacks at CIBO or equivalent and never buy anything onboard the aircraft. Social media sites like Facebook use credit card purchase data to track the effectiveness of their adverts. So does your airline. The more you know.
Michelle writes about cyber security, data privacy focusing on social media privacy as well as how to protect your IoT devices. She has worked in internet technology for over 20 years and owns METRONY, LLC. Michelle earned a B.S. in Engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Michelle published a guide to Cyber Security for Business Travelers