Skift Take

Don’t hold your breath for a points program, but there could still be some benefits for ultra-loyal customers.

Airbnb CEO and co-founder Brian Chesky says a points-based loyalty program is not in the company’s future.

“Probably, we’ll eventually have something,” he told Skift Editor-in-Chief Sarah Kopit this week. “But it definitely won’t be a points program. I don’t like those.”

Chesky said that rewarding loyal customers is a “fascinating idea” but that points are not the way to do it. “It’s quite literally a subsidy. You’re taking your most valuable people and you’re making them a little less valuable.”

Instead, Chesky wants to do something more personalized that helps the company get to know their customers better. “So that every time you use us, we can learn about you, understand you, know you.”

He is toying with the idea of an Amazon Prime subscription model, which he says will bring in more money to provide a better service.

“I think a paid membership is also interesting,” he said. “Like a Prime. We’ve been looking at it for a while and we think that’s also compelling.”

Loyalty Is Years in the Making

The company has routinely flirted with the idea of a loyalty program over the years.

In 2016, Chesky tweeted out asking what the company should launch the next year and a loyalty program was the overwhelming answer.

In 2018, he teased travelers again: “If Airbnb had a guest membership program, what benefits would you want?” he wrote on Twitter.

At the 2021 Skift Global Forum, Chesky told Skift CEO and founder Rafat Ali that “the team is waking up every day thinking about how we can have a great Super Guest program for those very loyal guests that are asking for it.”

In 2022, Chesky again asked Twitter what the company should focus on. A guest loyalty program was the third most suggested idea out of 4,000 responses. 

Does Airbnb Even Need a Loyalty Program?

Mathias Coudert, senior product manager of loyalty and memberships at a hospitality management software company called Mews, agreed with Chesky’s sentiment. “Loyalty programs are foremost a cost,” he previously wrote on LinkedIn. “It’s a great asset for a brand but still represents an important operational expenditure.” While this expense is usually transferred to a hotel owner, for Airbnb, it would be difficult to share this cost, he said.

Airbnb is also a giant in the industry with little-to-no competition. Airbnb had 6x more listings in 2023 than its only serious competitor, Vrbo, owned by Expedia. 

Airbnb could continue to allow customers to gain points through a mashup of other opportunities. The company provides customers the ability to earn miles with some airlines like Delta, Qantas and British Airways, and guests can earn points on certain credit cards that reward travel spending.

Most important, according to Chesky: “I think I’ve said repeatedly that the best loyalty is people loving your product and the best thing we can do to get people to come back to make sure the stay they had was great.”

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Tags: airbnb, brian chesky, dwell, loyalty, online travel newsletter, short-term rentals, tourism

Photo credit: An Airbnb guest. Source: Airbnb

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