Airbnb has made it clear it's not a hotel company in the traditional sense, but with its latest loyalty play, it appears to be taking its lead from hotel-airline partnerships. Which makes us wonder: Will it eventually launch its own loyalty program in the not-so-distant future? Are other airline partnerships in other global regions also in the works now that they've already formed deals in Australia and the U.S.?
Members of Qantas Frequent Flyer’s program now have another way to earn Qantas Points when they travel.
To be able to earn points, Frequent Flyer members must choose the Airbnb option at Qantas.com/stay and enter their member details so they can be redirected to Airbnb’s Australian site to complete their booking for any Airbnb listing worldwide. A member can’t earn points by booking on Airbnb’s site directly first.
At the moment, it appears this function is only available to members who book via Qantas’ Australian site. For example, if you attempt to book a hotel via the U.S. site, the option to book an Airbnb does not appear.
Qantas already has similar partnerships with other hotel and accommodations providers that can be booked on its site, but this particular partnership with Airbnb is a first-of-its-kind airline partnership for the alternative accommodations provider, and a first for an airline, in Australia at least.
Last fall, Airbnb formed a similar partnership with Virgin America. With this partnership, Virgin America Elevate members earn one Elevate Point for every $1 spent on an Airbnb booking, with first-time Airbnb users receiving 1,500 bonus points and a $20 Airbnb credit. Elevate members are also encouraged to become Airbnb hosts, earning 20,000 Elevate Points after completing their fifth night of hosting.
A somewhat similar partnership to these two is Airbnb’s partnership with American Express, although this requires American Express card members to use their points to book Airbnb accommodations, instead of giving them the ability to earn them. With this partnership, Qantas Frequent Flyers have an incentive for booking Airbnb, whereas with American Express, Airbnb is simply another way for members to redeem their points.
At a time when there’s increasing debate about the true value of airline loyalty programs and more airlines seem to be devaluing their programs to accommodate high spenders versus frequent flyers, as discussed at the Skift Global Forum last week, this move by Qantas seems especially progressive. It seems to be geared toward providing yet another way for Qantas passengers to earn loyalty points, and therefore, increase their loyalty to the carrier and the brand.
Some Potential Turbulence
One group who may not be so pleased with this new partnership, however, are the hotels whom Qantas has partnered with previously to offer the same kind of points earning capabilities. In a statement, Tourism Accommodation Australia (TAA), a group representing the hotel and lodging industry in Australia, denounced the new Qantas-Airbnb partnership, saying it was a “slap in the face” for Qantas’ traditional hotel partners.
“While we respect the right of airlines to make commercial agreements with various organizations, Qantas should understand the importance of working with partners who fully support and contribute to the tourism industry and meet all their regulatory requirements,” said TAA CEO Carol Giuseppi said. “Around the world cities and countries are moving towards greater regulation of businesses such as Airbnb because they are operating in the commercial space without meeting the same regulatory requirements that legitimate hotels, motels, service apartment and B&B operators have to meet.”
Jay Sorensen, president of IdeaWorks Company, a travel consulting firm specializing in aviation strategy and frequent flyer programs, said Qantas may have overlooked what impact its deal with Airbnb would have on its many hotel partners.
“The Qantas Frequent Flyer Program has a lot invested in its branded hotel relationships. And I imagine the airline generates significant revenue from these,” he said. “This may be a case in which a company wants to be cool and hip, without considering the reaction of its long term ‘partners.’ I think Qantas underestimated how concerned the hotels are by sharing the credibility of Frequent Flyer Program participation.”
The Qantas partnership with Airbnb also extends beyond just booking. Airbnb and Qantas filmed promotional videos that play on the traditional flight safety video, only with Qantas flight attendants showcasing Airbnb properties in Tokyo, Sydney, and London. An unspecified number of Qantas planes have also been repainted to feature Airbnb’s signature logo, the belo, replacing the first “a” in Qantas.
Why Airbnb and Qantas Teamed Up
So what’s driving this partnership? According to Qantas CEO Alan Joyce it was a matter of a natural fit and a recognition of consumers’ evolving hospitality demands.
In a statement, Joyce said, “The way that people around the world plan, book and experience travel is changing rapidly with the digital revolution. We know our many of our customers are just as likely to arrange an Airbnb as they are to book a hotel, and we wanted to recognize and reward them for that.” He added, “From creating business class in the 1970s to introducing mobile technology to transform the check-in process in recent years, Qantas has always looked for ways to reinvent airline travel — just like Airbnb has done for accommodation. We’re really excited about the potential for this partnership.”
Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky, in the same release, said, “Our announcement today with Qantas highlights the rapidly growing movement towards the personalized and unique experiences available through the Airbnb community. People around the world are experiencing a different way to travel through Airbnb. We’re focused on connecting people with the hospitality of locals, welcoming travelers into their communities so they can truly belong anywhere. There are just a handful of global brands who understand that travel is now changing for the better. Qantas is one of those brands.”
And how does this partnership work, exactly? Skift inquired with Airbnb Australia to confirm but did not receive a response. However, if this partnership is similar in nature to the partnerships Qantas has already established with hotels, it would mean that Airbnb is paying to be a part of the Qantas program, and Qantas is likely charging Airbnb for annual marketing fees, as well as any miles or points purchased that are tied to a loyalty member’s Airbnb booking. Hotel or accommodations partners often seek out these types of airline partnerships because of the added visibility and ability to connect with frequent travelers who are earning miles or points.
To promote this partnership, both companies are also hosting a contest for loyalty members that will run through the end of this month. The winner receives four return business class tickets to Qantas to San Francisco from anywhere in Australia and a five-night Airbnb stay in San Francisco worth up to $5,000, among other things.
Note: Skift contacted Airbnb in Australia for comment regarding this partnership but did not receive a response prior to publication.
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Photo credit: Airbnb and Qantas have partnered with one another to allow Qantas loyalty members to earn points for booking their Airbnb stays through Qantas.com. James Horan / Qantas and Airbnb