In this month’s One-on-One blog, ExpertFlyer talks with Christopher Barnard, the President of Points.com, the largest consumer rewards management platform that allows over 3 million users to trade, exchange and redeem points, miles and rewards.
Points.com’s solutions enable the management and monetization of loyalty currencies, including frequent flyer miles, hotel points, retailer rewards and credit card points, as well as enhancing loyalty program consumer offerings and back-end operations for more than 50 partners worldwide. Points.com’s software-as-a-service (SaaS) products allow eCommerce merchants to add loyalty solutions to their online stores and reward customers for purchases.
Christopher Barnard, President. Points.com
“We’re helping to make the world’s Loyalty Programs more valuable and engaging
— Christopher Barnard, president, Points.com
How does Points.com make travelers points and miles go further? What makes your tool better than competitors, like MileageManager or Mileport?
With Consumers participating in more and more loyalty programs the need to organize them is certainly growing. However, organizing and managing are different things. In order to manage all these un-tapped assets, consumers need to conduct useful transactions, as well. That’s what differentiates Points.com’s service – the ability to actively manage your programs, not passively see your aggregated information. Additionally, we do all this in partnership with the Loyalty Programs, so all the transactions and information sharing is fully sanctioned and secure.
What’s your take on the latest crop of point tracking/award searching sites, such as UsingMiles, GoMiles, and Superfly? How do they compete with Points.com’s business?
We’ve always thought that the ability to track miles is a valuable service. We’ve partnered with the loyalty industry to offer that capability so that Consumers can get more engaged in their Loyalty Programs by doing some unique transactions. Most of the new start-ups offering tracking services are focused on using loyalty information to help people search for flights. They’ve also chosen to do this outside of the loyalty industry so don’t have the benefit of our direct integrations and relationships with the Loyalty Programs.
You’ve introduced a number of new program offerings in the last couple of years. Talk about how Points.com’s Trading Exchange works and how it has been received by your subscribers?
Trading and Exchanging miles and points has been very popular with our Users. In fact, in 2011 the number of miles and points we transacted (through Exchanging, Trading or Redeeming) at Points.com was up 46% over 2010 and the total number of individual transactions increased 76% over the year.
Here’s how the two transactions work:
Exchange: User A’s miles in Program 1 get Exchanged for miles in Program 2. Just one user is involved and we work with both Programs to determine the exchange rate (it’s a function of how much money Program 1 pays us on the way out and how much Program 2 charges us on the way in). There is no cash cost for the User but the average exchange rate is approximately 3:1 (and up to 5:1 or more between competing airline programs).
Trade: User A trades Program 1 miles for Program 2 miles from User B. Each User gets the miles they want and has to pay approximately $0.01/mile for the Trade (this money plus some admin fees goes mostly to the two Programs). This is a transaction directly between the two Users so they get to determine the exchange rate they are comfortable with. This all happens anonymously through our Program sanctioned platform.
Have trading exchange users encountered any challenges associated with determining currency values of airline miles? So, if “traveler A” has 10,000 AA miles and “traveler B” has 10,000 US Airways miles, who decides which is more valuable?
Right off the bat, it has been about a 1:1 ratio between programs on the Trading platform. One of the keys here is that both Users have to be a member of both programs to conduct a trade. As most consumers are members of multiple programs, the desire to trade into/out of one comes down more to a specific route or redemption that they have in mind. We see very few people “leaving” a program after a trade (we know this because vast majority have a larger balance a month later) so it seems that they value each program a bit differently for a specific redemption, but remain fully engaged in both.
How do you see alliances, such as oneworld and Star Alliance, affecting the trading and ultimately the value of miles?
Alliances are a great benefit to the value of a mile. More ways to earn and more ways to burn are always a good thing.
Not every traveler is a frequent flyer and most may only accrue a few hundred loyalty miles per year. How doesPoints.com allow loyalty program members to enjoy benefits with lower point values?
We do this in a number of ways:
1) We highlight more and more ways to earn miles in your chosen programs in an effort to get that annual number up
2) We allow you to buy more miles in many of the programs to get to an award level faster
3) We offer the Trading and Exchanging of miles to increase their utility, even in smaller numbers
4) We offer some unique redemptions (like toping up a Starbucks Card, or your PayPal account) that in some cases can be done with smaller balances
5) We offer a growing number of special offers that Users can take advantage of for as little as 250 to 1,000 miles
Airline programs, like the airlines themselves, tend to be regional. How are you working with local merchants to leverage airline loyalty programs and incentivize consumers to buy from them?
This is a newer focus for us and we are beginning to ramp up a network of merchants that use our Partners’ miles as their own incentive in order to drive activity. We believe that in most cases this is much more effective than the merchant trying to start up their own rewards program that will likely have limited appeal given a typically infrequent purchase history with most consumers. How many winter parkas would you need to buy to earn a free pair of gloves? That same parka purchase might just earn you enough miles (the last 500 you need) to get to Hawaii for free!
How is your white label program “powering” outfits, like American Airlines, to enable customer purchase of additional airlines miles?
We’ve partnered with over 35 programs around the world to offer Consumers the ability to top up their accounts through our service. While it’s very rarely worth it to buy all the miles you need for a ticket, it is frequently cheaper to top up an account in order to do a redemption vs. buying a ticket.
What loyalty program trends are you seeing take shape now and how will they affect business travelers and frequent flyers moving forward?
The more broad distribution of Miles and Points is really starting to ramp up. While this will be partly driven by the pace of technology advancement in areas like mobile platforms, social networks, digital wallets, and ecommerce platforms, the real driver will be consumers, led by the business traveler and frequent flyer.
Loyalty Program members are increasingly looking for their programs to show up where they happen to be, not the other way around. “I want more places to earn my miles” or “Where else can I use my points?” are constant refrains we hear from Points.com users and through our research.
As program members are quickly getting used to this kind of distributed servicing from all other aspects of their consumer lives (mobile offers, daily deals, multitude of apps, new social networks) they will get increasingly engaged in Loyalty Programs that are following suit.