AIN readers weigh in on value of fuel promotions

 - September 20, 2006, 4:26 AM

With crude oil and jet-A prices rising and demand continuing to grow, retail purchasers of fuel might wonder why fuel companies bother with promotional programs. Isn’t jet-A a commodity, easily mixed among brands? Does it matter what kind of jet-A you put in your airplane?

No, it doesn’t, and that’s why fuel companies continue to run promotions to help persuade you to choose their fuel rather than a competitor’s. Loyalty is good for business, no matter the product, and fuel companies want you to remember their names and look for their brands each time you buy fuel.

AIN polled 110 corporate pilots to see what they think about fuel promotion programs, which are their favorites and why they like promos. We received 17 responses. Some respondents don’t think the programs are worthwhile, while others have their favorites and participate diligently. Avfuel received the most mentions in this brief, unscientific survey.

We may have left out some promotion programs. If so, let us know about them. While some respondents mentioned FBO-based promotion programs, we didn’t include them because there are too many for this article.

One responder said he prefers Atlantic Aviation’s Awards because they are easy to redeem via the Internet. He likes Avfuel’s Avtrip savings bonds, but said that they “are a disadvantage because you have to file a 1099 Misc with the IRS, and to do that you have to do the self-employed forms.”

A pilot who said that Avtrip “is excellent” added that “we use whatever is available.” He is not a fan of one big oil company in particular and wrote, “At this point, if possible, I do not purchase any more fuel than absolutely required from an ExxonMobil dealer. Reason: excessive profits and especially the retirement package for the CEO.”

Another Avtrip fan uses Avfuel most often, he wrote. He likes Avtrip because there “is nothing to save and submit; the company (hopefully) handles it all.” He cautioned that “promotions should never be the driving force in making purchases. Given the choice between awards and a good fuel price, I will always go with the price. I have little tolerance for pilots whose decisions are based on what they can get for free. The company comes first.”

While this pilot said he doesn’t buy extra fuel because of a promotional program, he likes both Avtrip and Atlantic Awards. “The Atlantic program is better because the American Express card can be used at all places that accept American Express cards and can be used as soon as a participant has accumulated $100 in rewards. To take full advantage of the [Avtrip] program, you should wait until the savings bond has matured.”

“Giveaways are always a nice incentive,” wrote a pilot who likes Avtrip, Colt International’s Fly For Fun and ExxonMobil’s Pilots + Rewards, “but my primary goal is to save my company money in the way of fuel discounts.”

For one pilot, brands and promotional programs are secondary considerations: “We buy on price alone,” he wrote, “and we check prices by phone before departure.”
Some respondents don’t like the hassle of dealing with promotions. “I have participated in all of these, yet I have never redeemed any awards,” a respondent wrote. “Company policy is [to] tanker as much as possible and, after that, go for the best price. None of these promotions would sway me [in] one direction or another. The drain on my time to redeem for just ‘stuff’ doesn’t appeal to me.”

“I do not like any reward programs!” commented a flight department manager/chief pilot. “Just give us the best fuel price that allows the FBO to make a fair into-plane fee above the FBO’s cost.” This chief pilot went on to recommend the Corporate Aircraft Association’s discount program. “I think all Part 91 operators should belong to the CAA,” he wrote. “The CAA Preferred FBO gives the CAA member the lowest price of any program and the CAA collects no fee from the FBO.”

A Gulfstream pilot offered that his G550’s flexibility allows frequent tankering. “We can tanker a lot of fuel,” he wrote. “Our aircraft scheduler calls FBOs we will be visiting and gets us the best price she can.”

A part-time, semi-retired pilot summed up with his opinion: “Having been in the business for many years I see fuel programs come and go. I definitely do not like gifts to pilots, which encourage crews to use specific FBOs. Simply try to give the customer a fair deal, reward repeat business and work with each customer very closely.”