I thought that the ‘gifted article’ would work, but, sorry, here goes:
Nearly every big travel brand offers customers a chance to earn points and status via loyalty programs. Airbnb, one of the most recognizable travel companies in the world, doesn’t.
Travel loyalty programs are popular with consumers who chase flight upgrades and who book lavish hotels with points. A new rewards program that launched this week from the Expedia Group, which owns vacation-rental site Vrbo and Hotels.com, could put pressure on Airbnb, which had floated a loyalty program in 2018 that never materialized.
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Airbnb leads the market in short-term rentals, and the company has noted that travelers want rewards for their loyalty. It had the largest share of booking revenue in the short-term rental market in 2022, according to an analysis from market-research company AirDNA. Airbnb’s share was more than 20 percentage points greater than Vrbo’s.
Airbnb declined to comment for this article. During the company’s May earnings call, Chief Executive Officer Brian Chesky said a classic points program isn’t the right approach for the company, but executives are thinking about ways to reward the best guests.
“I always believe that the best loyalty program is people loving your product and if they love your products, they come back,” said Chesky, who noted that nearly 90% of the company’s traffic is direct or organic, meaning visitors go directly to the website or app or find the site without coming through an ad shown in a search-engine result. The company is adept at winning repeat customers, he said.
Chesky also tweeted in May that a “guest loyalty program” was one of the top suggestions from users on how to improve Airbnb.
Hunting for points
Will Kivinski, a 39-year-old customer education manager from Kansas City, Mo., says he stays in Airbnb properties less often these days partly because he would rather earn loyalty points elsewhere. An Airbnb customer since 2013, he opts for hotels, which he says have more consistent quality and offer the opportunity to earn rewards points and discounts.
“The fact that there’s been no attempt to give anything back, especially for people that have been loyal for relatively a decade, has been a little bit troublesome,” he says.
Travel loyalty programs are popular with consumers who chase flight upgrades and who book lavish hotels with points. PHOTO: ISTOCK
Airbnb does have partnerships with airlines including Delta, Qantas and British Airways, where guests can earn miles on qualifying Airbnb stays. Popular credit cards also offer additional points on travel spending, including for nights booked on Airbnb.
With One Key, the new Expedia program, rewards cash from bookings on Expedia, Hotels.com and Vrbo flow into one account and can be used to discount other bookings. A traveler who earned rewards cash from a flight booked through Expedia, for example, could apply it to lower the price of a Vrbo stay, and vice versa.
Travelers earn rewards on trip elements—one night of a hotel stay, or a one-way flight—so status accumulates quickly. A customer who books a five-night Vrbo stay attains silver status, which includes perks like 15% discounts at eligible Hotels.com properties and priority traveler support.
The loyalty program is the company’s attempt at better brand recognition, Expedia Group executives say. It’s also Expedia’s play to get customers to book more of their travel on its sites—whether a flight, car rental, hotel stay or vacation rental.
Expedia Group Chief Executive Officer Peter Kern said that Vrbo’s ability to offer reward cash in particular is a “huge differentiator” against Airbnb.
For Expedia, including Vrbo in a loyalty program as a way to gain on Airbnb makes sense, says Clay Voorhees, a University of Alabama marketing professor who has studied loyalty programs.
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Airbnb might not need a loyalty program, says Nicolas Graf, associate dean at New York University’s Jonathan M. Tisch Center of Hospitality. Such programs are useful for hotel companies because they guarantee franchisees a network of loyal customers, he says. Airbnb customers choose their stays with individual hosts based on location and price, rather than the specific travel brand.
Madison Forster, 25, of Philadelphia, says she would jump at the chance to earn points or perks for her Airbnb stays, but not having a loyalty program doesn’t deter her from booking short-term rentals there. Forster, who works at a nonprofit, says it’s convenient for large group trips she takes with friends and is often cheaper than multiple hotel rooms.
Many companies have made it harder to secure perks through loyalty programs lately. Still, loyalty programs with tiers or earning mechanisms can provide companies with considerable increases in sales and gross profits, according to a 2019 study in the Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science that Voorhees co-wrote. The key, he says, is the feeling customers get from reaching a level of loyalty status.
“It’s not so much about earning them the first time, but once you have them, you don’t want to lose them,” he says.
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