Struggling with a declining passenger count the past few years, Burbank Bob Hope Airport has turned to an unusual loyalty-rewards program to boost travelers coming through its terminal. Bob Hope is the first airport in the state participating in the Thanks Again program and has exclusivity on the program for a year in the Los Angeles basin. The program rewards travelers not only for airline miles or hotel stays but for each dollar spent at the shops and services offered at the airport. When not traveling, the passengers can continue to earn the miles and points by patronizing area shops and restaurants signed up with the program. Dan Feger, executive director of the Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena Airport Authority, which owns and operates the airport, said he is optimistic the program will assist both local businesses and the airport. “Our customers are their customers,” Feger said. “There is a synergy we can build with the businesses around the airport.” The airport has long promoted itself as a convenient alternative to Los Angeles International Airport, but a continual fall-off in passenger counts – traffic declined 5.7 percent last year to 4.1 million passengers – has proven that is not enough. Thanks Again LLC, based in Tyrone, Ga., has about 170 airports in the loyalty rewards program in markets such as Atlanta, Dallas-Fort Worth, Little Rock and Baton Rouge, La. Thanks Again was founded in 2004 and has grown to include 28,000 participating businesses. New merchants and retailers are added each month. The program already had 10,000 registered members in California who frequented out-of-state airports prior to Bob Hope joining. From July 26, when the program launched, through Aug. 8, about 230 people had registered through the airport to become members, officials said. “There is a part of the population that is fanatical about points and miles and they don’t spend a dime without getting something,” said Jay Ellis Sr., vice president at Thanks Again. “Those are the folks we are focused on.” Loyalty pays The program works this way: Members register a credit or debit card and when they use it over a 90-day period at participating airlines, hotels and at the airport for services or at participating businesses. For instance, $250 in spending over 90 days translates to 500 miles or points, while $1,000 in spending equals 5,000 miles or points. Participating airlines are United, American, Delta, Alaska and US Airways. The company is also working on getting Southwest Airlines to join. To date, the only hotel participating is Hilton Worldwide Inc., but Ellis said Wyndham Worldwide Corp. is the next chain that will participate and talks are progressing with Marriott International Inc. Eric Rosen, managing editor of ThePointsGuy, an online publication covering loyalty rewards programs, was familiar with the program and is a member. He said frequent travelers can easily see the numbers pile up. “It can add up, especially for a business traveler who is in and out of airports and buying a newspaper, water, snacks or whatever,” Rosen said. The program is introduced to airport businesses as a marketing tool. A recent survey by the company of eight participating airports concluded that Thanks Again members spend an average of $14 at an airport versus $9 for non-members. Businesses that participate must pay about 4 percent on transactions when a program member makes a purchase. A $100 restaurant bill, for example, would cost the restaurant $4, said Jeremiah Gerald, a vice president with Thanks Again handling airports in the Western U.S. A business can set a minimum purchase for a program member to get points. In terms of investment, Thanks Again handles the marketing and advertising and no new equipment or software businesses is needed, he said. The airport and Thanks Again invited business owners to hear about the program at a meeting in late July. Among those attending was Linda Maxwell, special events coordinator at the Burbank Town Center mall. Maxwell said she could not see a downside to participating in the program and will try to get the mall’s tenants to participate. “Anytime I can direct traffic toward my center and Burbank in general we benefit,” said Maxwell, who added she would start with the mall’s restaurants and once they are on board move to the retailers. Gerald said restaurants, dry cleaners, spas and other businesses that are relevant to affluent travelers tend to be the types of businesses that have been involved in the program early on. After about a year, Thanks Again will determine how successful the program has been. “Then we can go in and measure and identify the spending patterns and the return on investment,” Gerald said. Other steps The airport could use as much help as it can get attracting passengers. As a regional airport, Bob Hope is an alternative to Los Angeles International Airport, providing non-stop service primarily to West Coast cities. But last year, American Airlines pulled its operations out of Bob Hope, and Jet Blue and Delta have shifted flights to other airports. Six commercial airlines still operate from the airport with Southwest having the most flights. The airline flew 2.8 million passengers from Burbank in 2012. However, for the first six months of 2013, overall passenger numbers continued their decline and were off 4.2 percent to 1.9 million when compared to the already weak 2012 numbers. Rosen, of ThePointsGuy.com, was skeptical whether Thanks Again would draw travelers to Bob Hope who might otherwise choose another airport. “What might happen though is if your card is registered at the airport is it might make you spend slightly more than you would otherwise,” Rosen said. However, Feger said the program fits in with other steps taken by Bob Hope to distinguish itself from other L.A. airports. If a traveler knows that using the parking at Bob Hope will result in earning airline miles that could be the deciding factor. “Having this edge may steer some decision-making our way,” said Feger, who believes the economy has been the biggest factor in the decline in airport traffic. Over the past few years the airport has been more aggressive about marketing itself and making other improvements that play off the convenience factor. In May, for instance, the airport authority began a three-year deal making it the official airport of the Rose Bowl and UCLA athletics. The $309,000 contract will have Bob Hope promoted at the Pasadena stadium during UCLA football games and at Pauley Pavilion during basketball games. And the newly formed Burbank Hospitality Association, a marketing organization that represents hotels, features Bob Hope as a drawing point for outside visitors. The airport also is constructing an $82 million regional transportation center that will contain rental car facilities, a bus transit station and a moving walkway to the terminal. The center will connect to nearby Metrolink and Amtrak stations. Bob Hope is one of just three airports in the U.S. with an adjacent Amtrak station, Feger noted. In addition, a Metrolink station is being built north of the airport at San Fernando Road and Hollywood Way to bring in travelers from the Antelope and Santa Clarita valleys. “If people are faced with driving to LAX or taking the train to Burbank it might actually make the difference,” Feger said.