Expedia Announces New Loyalty Program

Online travel agency Expedia Group (EXPE: NASDAQ) has been experiencing a great bounce back since the darkest days of the pandemic. But Expedia Group’s plethora of brands have been both a business boon and occasional source of confusion.

This week Expedia announced the name of its new loyalty program. One Key is an initiative to unlock the company’s loyalty program, now spread over multiple platforms. Travelers will be able to earn and burn points across Expedia brands.

Expedia is certainly a ‘brands are us’ company. The Expedia Group family includes Expedia, CarRentals.com, CheapTickets, ebookers (Finland), Expedia Cruises, Expedia Local Expert (marketing activities at destinations), Expedia Partner Solutions, Hotels.com, Hotwire.com, Orbitz, Travelocity, trivago, Vrbo and Wotif (Australia.)

On the positive side, Expedia, Orbitz, Hotels.com (Captain Obvious has left the building), the roaming gnome of Travelocity and the rest are all purchase portals for Expedia Group customers. These travelers use their preferred brand (many do not know a given website is part of Expedia) to purchase hotels, airline tickets, rental cars and activities at their destination.

On the flip side, Expedia executives referred to the separate sites as “silos” where different policies sometimes prevail. Jon Gieselman, President of Expedia Brands, acknowledged, “To some extent our brands have actually competed with each other in the past.”

Gieselman believes that until the pandemic, the travel industry encouraged customers to over-focus on price rather than on finding the best travel experience. “We need to pivot from lowest price to planning best traveler outcome. It’s been very difficult with all these consumer brand silos. We will operate more as a platform — the pandemic really emphasized that. “

During the COVID pandemic, Expedia executives saw some issues arising from differences among the company’s brands. When the company had to deal with a flood of COVID-related cancellations. Ariane Gorin, President, Expedia for Business, said, “There were questions about refunds — our brands all had different policies.”

Going forward, Expedia CEO Peter Kern joked that the new One Key loyalty program will end infighting between brands in favor of a “Marvel Multiverse” of hero brands working together.

Currently, four Expedia brands have their own loyalty programs, each with different policies, currencies, and values. For example, I have a small handful of Orbitz and Expedia points, neither of which I use. Popular Expedia brand sites Vrbo (home and vacation rental) and Travelocity do not currently have loyalty programs.

Gieselman believes there is tremendous potential for a unified loyalty program from Expedia’s combined 154 million customers, which “would make us the 9th largest country in the world. ”

One Key is Expedia’s program to combine the loyalty memberships into one rewards program, like The Lord of the Rings’ ‘one ring to rule them all.’ Expedia’s Gieselman says that “Points earned on a Vrbo stay could be spent on an Expedia flight.” The idea, he says, is “Creating a simple and easy program where you earn loyalty awards across platforms.”

Like eliminating what he calls the “crushing complexity of search,” Gieselman says the goal is to simplify the process for Expedia customers. “The industry has trained customers to look for the lowest price. Go to search, then it’s jump ball. “

For Expedia, the hope is that an expanded but more transparent loyalty program will add value for customers and, well, enhance loyalty. ‘

Gieselman said this week that One Key is “not intended to compete with the road warrior programs. We do not want it to be a walled garden. ” Many Expedia customers use many different hotels and airlines when they book. The points that travelers have in different Expedia Group brands will be recalculated “in a way that creates additional value” when the program launches later this year or in 2023. You earn status, you earn the reward. ”

The first step, says Gieselman, “is to get people on the new platform. We’ll market it, and make sure that everyone understands it. By next year, customers will understand there is a relationship between these businesses. “

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