E-commerce Platform Helps to Drive Loyalty, Engagement

TORONTO—A customer’s loyalty is truly worth its weight in gold. But with all of the energy it took to deserve that loyalty, how do you maintain it? Much like other relationships, it takes work and you’ve got to keep it interesting to keep them coming back for more.

Points CEO Rob MacLean knows this all too well. He spent much of his career running a large airline loyalty program, and in that role, he had a longstanding relationship with hotel loyalty programs. During the 1990s, the two worlds were interchangeable at times.

“We worked with Hilton, Starwood and a big part of what we had established back in the ’90s was a combined effort to provide value to that traveler. If we’re on an airplane, we’re staying at a hotel,” said MacLean. “In the early days, by and large, hotels were using and taking advantage of the airline loyalty programs. Hotels would offer miles and points for United or American Airlines and we built relationships around that customer.”

Today, the landscape has changed significantly in terms of technology, expanded features of loyalty programs and the expectations of savvy travelers. In 2000, MacLean launched Points to provide a set of products designed to serve the loyalty industry by helping to increase revenue and customer engagement, while offering value to loyalty program members.

“Increasingly, we saw hotels move in this direction looking for ways to engage customers but also make the program profitable and help them monetize it,” he said. “Consumers in America have on average between 25-30 different loyalty programs in their purse or wallet, and it’s growing. They’re more sophisticated. It’s key to establish a position from the beginning. We’re a partner with the loyalty industry—airlines, hotel, retail and financial services. There’s so much opportunity, and we can have more fun and value by working as a partner rather than creating our own program.” 

The company recently expanded its Point Travel SaaS booking service to include car rental booking functionality in addition to hotel reservations. The new service is available through Miles & More, Europe’s loyalty and awards program with more than 300 partners. Members will have the ability to book car rentals by using their miles, or a combination of miles and cash.

Other services include its loyalty e-commerce platform for partners such as IHG and Marriott to help them distribute more miles and points. If brands have millions of members, and they do, they’re always looking for ways to get customers more engaged, he noted. The Points team will also make more miles available and the platform can be used to retail points.

“If you’re a member … we enable a product to allow you to buy the remaining miles you need to get a full week’s free stay and top off your account,” he said. “Before, there weren’t opportunities for consumers to acquire those miles quickly. Our partners in the hotel space believe if you’re loyal and already generated all kinds of points, maybe we should make it easy for you to get a second room or a vacation. They can use our platforms.”

When it comes to improving “stickiness” with loyalty program members, MacLean says it’s important to recognize the very best customer, who is also the most profitable and engaged.

“Whether it’s La Quinta or Hilton HHonors, you have to ensure the value you’re offering is significant and on-strategy. These folks aren’t gamers, they’re your best customers and their repeat behavior is off the charts. Some of the big brands are really spending a lot now to build that membership base,” he said. “For the best customer in the hotel, you can incentivize with miles and points or make special offers that you don’t have to make available to the broader audience to build long-term and sustainable relationships.”

—Corris Little