A survey conducted by Sabre Airline Solutions of 90 airlines across the globe revealed that while fuel cost instability and revenue management are among the top challenges for carriers over the next 18 months, it is customer loyalty and retention efforts that are viewed by an overwhelming majority of survey respondents (86 percent) as having the most positive impact on their business.

Customer experience was ranked by nearly 50 percent of those surveyed as the primary issue related to customer loyalty and retention.

The importance of developing customer loyalty is part of the unwieldy crisis airlines face today as charging additional fees is viewed by them as one of the top tactics to increase revenues.

Overall customer satisfaction with airlines was down this year, in part because of costs and fees, according to a study released in June by J.D. Power and Associates.

"The importance of customer loyalty and retention was distinctly higher in this year's survey as compared to a similar study we did two years ago," said Gordon Locke, vice president of Airline Marketing for Sabre. "That's not surprising as airlines grapple with the challenge of introducing additional fees to generate much-needed new revenue, in a way that doesn't erode an airline's brand or negatively impact customer loyalty. The airline that finds that magic balance will become a model for the rest of the industry.

"We've seen some winners and losers in this area, particularly as customers are less loyal to brands and more apt to switching preferences now than ever before. In the next year or two, we'll see more experimentation and a greater focus on the customer as airlines sharpen their ability to service customer needs using new technologies available to them."

According to 58 percent of those surveyed, merchandising and ancillary revenue will help airlines