Transport Airlines

The new mileage tracker that reads your email so airlines can’t cut it off

@denschaal

Jan 02, 2013 1:20 am

Skift Take

Superfly’s Superbox is very convenient answer — assuming there are no privacy issues — for getting around airlines who seem hell-bent on making tracking miles difficult for their loyalty program members. It wouldn’t be surprising, though, if some of these airline abstainers object to this latest workaround.

— Dennis Schaal

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Delta, Southwest, American, and United Airlines have barred most mileage-tracking sites from accessing information about customers’ frequent flyer miles, but Superfly has begun searching users’ Gmail accounts, with permission, to automatically update their miles and points.

Superfly calls the new service, which is in beta, Superbox. Users can select the site’s Superbox tab, enter their Gmail address, authenticate it, and then Superfly will search their Gmail inboxes to extract their miles and points information from the monthly emails and account updates that airlines and hotels send to their loyalty program members.

Superbox, which was recently soft-launched, currently supports United MileagePlus, American Airlines AAdvantage, Delta SkyMiles, Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards, US Airways Dividend Miles, and Virgin America eleVAte, among U.S. domestic airlines and programs.

On the international front, Superfly’s new service also supports British Airways Executive Club and Alitalia MilleMiglia.

“Our focus was on domestic airlines where users are hurting most, but we added hotels [Starwood and Hilton] and credit card [American Express] programs, as a well as a few international airlines to show the potential,” says Jonathan Meiri, Superfly’s CEO. “We will be adding more services every day and ideally have all the services (100+) connected via Superbox.”

Not just for Gmail

The Superbox service searches only Gmail for now, and Superfly plans to add other Web-based email services, including Microsoft Outlook Express and Yahoo Mail, Meiri says.

Over the last couple of years, American, Southwest, Delta, and United have barred most mileage-tracking sites and apps, including TripIt Pro, AwardWallet, Traxo, UsingMiles, MileWise, and Superfly from crawling their sites or using third-party services to do so.

Until now, the only exception to the rule has been Points.com, which has agreements with American, United, Delta and Southwest. Users can currently track their American, United and Delta miles on Points.com, and that capability is expected to be in place for Southwest midway in 2013.

Points.com has an edge over other mileage-tracking sites because it provides back-end loyalty program services to airlines, and has been able to forge agreements with them.

For sites such as Superfly, TripIt, and the others that don’t have agreements with the carriers, the airlines generally claim that frequent flyer account information belongs to the airline, and not the passenger. Read any frequent flyer forum, and you’ll see how that stance has angered passengers.

Airlines also allege security issues with the use of third-party services, and object to the cost the airlines must bear when mileage-tracking sites or their proxies search accounts for updates.

As a general rule, the airlines don’t want third-party services getting between them and their most loyal passengers.

Is the drought over?

Most of the mileage-tracking sites have been totally cut off from the four airlines’ frequent flyer account information, even when users have granted permission to access it, although a couple of sites have tried some workarounds, with very limited and diminishing success.

Superfly’s new service uses the OAuth open-source protocol to get limited access to users’ password-protected Gmail accounts to access loyalty program updates. Superfly users don’t have to provide their Google passwords to get the service working.

Superbox should alleviate the airlines’ concerns about unathorized access to their sites since Superfly doesn’t interface with the airlines’ websites.

However, it remains to be seen whether the airlines will still seek to bar Superfly form handling customers’ account information.

In other words, while many frequent flyers believe they should be entitled to do what they wish with their account information, many airlines argue that it is their intellectual property.

Representatives from American Airlines and Delta declined to comment about Superbox, and Southwest, and United didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

Google getting into the act

Superbox is similar in some respects to a new Google initiative to search users’ Gmail accounts to access their airline itineraries and flight status updates. Google, however, spills the information into personalized Web results without consolidating them into a dashboard, and so far is tracking itineraries, but is not monitoring users’ points and miles information.

Superfly takes users’ loyalty program information and informs them about the “net value” of their flight searches, taking rewards into account.

For example, when comparing flight options, a higher fare may still provide a passenger with a greater net value, depending on the user’s loyalty program status.

Beyond the consumer appeal, Meiri says Superfly gathers valuable data about users’ flight and hotel travel and spending patterns, and is marketing a service to airlines whereby they can make targeted offers to these frequent flyers and guests.

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