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Online travel powerhouse Expedia Group plans to unify and expand customer loyalty program offerings across its portfolio of brands.
The move will result in “the most complete travel rewards offering in the industry,” according to the Seattle-based firm, with member discounts and reward earning and redemption on flights, hotels, vacation rentals, car rentals, cruises, and activities across all Expedia Group brands.
Travel brands impacted include Expedia, Hotels.com, Orbitz, Travelocity and Vrbo.
The step addresses, on a corporate level, a problem that has plagued consumer loyalty efforts. Ever since American Airlines in 1981 became the first major company to roll out a loyalty program, its AAdvantage frequent flyer plan, travel suppliers and others have debuted scores of similar schemes in an effort to cultivate consumer fealty to their brands.
Trouble is, while some consumers do stick to one airline, hotel chain or car rental firm to rack up reward points as intended, many others over time sign up with multiple companies, ending up with lots of low points balances in a multitude of competing loyalty programs.
Nowadays, companies often address this by partially partnering with compatible programs from other firms. Expedia Group is applying the model to its vast array of sometimes competing brands, with more than 145 million loyalty program members in total.
“I have a stack of logins and loyalty cards, and soon it just won’t be necessary because I’m going to earn benefits whether I’m renting a car, booking a flight or reserving a hotel room,” said Jon Gieselman, president of Expedia Brands.
All four existing main programs across Expedia Group brands will join the brand-new global rewards program, he noted. An exact launch date has not been set, but a company spokesperson said rollout is expected “within the coming year.”
“Our loyalty program will offer members the opportunity to earn and redeem points across all Expedia Group brands, even those brands, like Vrbo, that didn’t have loyalty programs before,” Gieselman said.
“A customer will be able to earn points for their Vrbo vacation rental and redeem it on an Expedia car rental, for example,” he added.
If you are booking a room on Hotels.com, that vacation package you booked on Expedia six months ago will have earned you loyalty currency towards it, he explained.
“It’s better for travelers, and there’s an added benefit of making our partners’ inventory more visible to new customers for future bookings,” Gieselman said. “It’s going to be simpler and more flexible.”
Membership in what Expedia Group calls the “unified and upgraded” loyalty program will be free.
New and existing members will meet a “seamless” experience once the new program launches, although current members will continue to use their original programs. Some details of the new program, such as parameters for redemption and expiration of points, are still being hashed out, according to Gieselman.
Expedia Group plans to build on existing program benefits such as member pricing, reward boosters, and upgrades and social amenities offered at thousands of properties worldwide. (To date, the company said, its Member Only Deals and loyalty rewards in legacy programs have saved clients almost $10 billion on travel.)
As the Covid pandemic and lockdown forced many travelers to delay plans until recently, Expedia Group expects a flood of redemptions and has ramped up customer service operations to handle it.
“There’s no doubt there will be a rush to travel and to use loyalty points as soon as the world opens up again,” Gieselman said. “We added hundreds of agents on the phones, introduced a virtual agent and developed a one-click cancel tool.”
A major goal of the new unified program is to educate Expedia Group customers about the relationships between the company’s brands and how to leverage them, “which will make life easier for travelers.”
“There was a time when our brands did compete against each other in the marketplace and that, to a certain extent, was part of the strategy,” Gieselman said. “We are now entirely focused on the best customer outcomes and bringing a more unified experience across our brands.
“Loyalty is a big piece of this and a huge leap towards that vision.”
The Expedia Group family of brands includes CarRentals.com, CheapTickets, ebookers, Egencia, Expedia, Expedia Cruises, Expedia Group Media Solutions, Expedia Local Expert, Expedia Partner Solutions, Hotels.com, Hotwire.com, Orbitz, Travelocity, trivago, Vrbo and Wotif.