A Legacy of Innovation

30 years of bright ideas have paved AirPlus’ road to success

AirPlus Innovation Wibke Sommer

Wibke Sommer grins. Her eyes drift from our interview in the Marketing wing of the Neu-Isenburg office and settle back in 1994, on the first days of her 25-year AirPlus career.

Now Product Owner of the AirPlus Garage, ground zero for innovative product development, it would be hard to find someone in a better position to speak to the company’s innovative roots. Over three decades, AirPlus has grown from a list of Lufthansa customers in a shoebox at the Frankfurt airport into a global leader in business travel payment. That doesn’t happen without a couple bright ideas.

The early days

Wibke recalls her early days in the company, the push to make headway in a growing industry. The sales department would ambitiously sell products that weren’t even developed yet. The company trusted fully in its vision of progress, and the stakes were high. “Whether something was possible was irrelevant: we had to deliver. That’s why innovation is in our genes.”

You don’t need to have seen the company’s fledgling days to come to the same conclusion. Mario Zorn, Associate Director of Product Development & Innovation, speaks in reverential tones of the 30-year legacy he’s inherited. “Innovation has been the key driver of our growth.” He doesn’t mince words in his conviction. “It’s the growth engine of the entire company.”

The road to success

Mario measures innovation as growth through change. By that definition, he considers our virtual card solution, now over a decade on the market, as our most significant innovation. “We were a clear first mover of virtual single use credit cards for the business travel world.” A wave we’ve ridden into global success.

Now with solutions in 60 countries, AirPlus has refined its swashbuckling approach. Our carefully established reliability is built on the close consideration of multinational customers and diverse regulations. With the pace of business driven by accelerating digitalization, our complex business model runs like clockwork around the world. “Growth brings innovative power,” Wibke reflects. “Which is exactly what we need.”

The challenge of growth

Global success has only amplified the need for bright ideas. Size can slow down change if it comes from on high. We rely on our local market presence to exploit targeted insights with finesse. “Internationalization has brought maturity. But innovations aren’t one-size-fits-all for every market.” Our decentralized teams are key to our current position, she explains. Staying a leader in innovation means keeping your feet firmly planted on the ground.

But AirPlus’ data-driven core has long been lodged in the digital world. Our vast resource network has long enabled tools like the AirPlus Information Manager, which provides customers with the analytics to make more from their data. Our solutions significantly increase traveler convenience: no advance payment, little admin effort, extensive insurance coverage. “And much more is in the works.” Innovations primed to handle the speed and dynamism our customers increasingly count on.

How will customer behavior develop? How should we adapt to changing markets? “The future is predictive,” says Wibke, and it’s questions like these that have borne AirPlus beyond the traditional payment process into the data arena. “AI, design thinking… the ideas are there,” she muses. “And systems are being developed to bring them to life.”

The future is bright

Mario also sees the role of innovation at AirPlus in fertile ground. “It isn’t just something nice to talk about. It’s sustainable, profitable business models that solve actual customer problems and will guarantee our success and growth for years to come.”

“Customers look for constant innovation,” says Wibke. It’s AirPlus’ job to keep them finding it here.


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