Airlines and hotels have had points, miles, and loyalty and rewards programs for decades, and sharing economy companies, like Uber and Lyft, are finally joining the game. But one company's will-they, won't-they history with loyalty programs has us champing at the bit for them to launch one of their own.
In February, Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky announced at a San Francisco event that the homesharing company would launch Superguest, a companion to its Superhost program, to provide membership benefits to its most loyal customers. The original plan was that the pilot program would roll out to 10,000 super Superguests over the summer, and to everyone else at the end of the year. Specifics about what it would included were not mentioned.
And then, at the Skift Global Forum in September, the company's new Head of Homes, Greg Greeley, who joined Airbnb in March, broke the news: the team was scrapping the plan and going back to the drawing board. Again, specifics as to what would happen next (and when those very things would happen) were scarce. Greeley, in fact, gave more information about what hadn't worked: "We actually have put together a pilot, did some research and we looked at that [program] and decided that it wasn’t differentiated enough and didn’t have enough community involvement for us to launch yet," he said.
With no Superguest launch date in sight at the end of 2018, CNTraveler decided to strike out on our own, polling Airbnb guests who book anywhere from six times a year to twice a month on what they—for the most part, loyal Marriott/SPG members and airline mile counters—would want out of a create-your-own Superguest program. Here's what they had to say.
Talk with Instagrammer and blogger Christine Amorose Merrill about points and loyalty programs for five minutes, and you'll realize she wants one thing from Airbnb: acknowledgment of her loyalty. "I know it sounds petty, but I like the recognition that I travel so much with one company," says the Marriott member and Southwest A-Lister. In Amorose Merrill's Superguest dream world, then, Airbnb's most consistent guests would get instant booking on all homes. (Right now, only hosts themselves decide whether or not to offer instant booking.) "Knowing that you're going to get the home you want to book as a trusted, vetted guest would be a real perk," she says.
Gimme...buy ten, get one free
If there's anything our Airbnbers agreed on, it's that having a point or stay accrual to put toward future stays would be the biggest benefit. Digital nomad Jonathan Khoo, who stays in one to two Airbnbs a month, suggested something like Hotels.com's program, which offers one free night for every ten booked on the site. "My ideal Airbnb program is pretty simple: Do ten nights/experiences and get one night/experience free, equal to the average cost of those ten [stays or experiences]," he says. All in all, Khoo has stayed in 95 Airbnbs, and thinks that a tier system based on stays would be a smart move, too. Suggested perks for those 40-or-more-stays tier? One night free every 40 stays, and extra discounts, like five percent off all bookings, for the company's more loyal travelers.
Amorose Merrill agrees, though she sees the program as points-per-dollar based. "I would be even more compelled to stay there for work and not just for personal travel if I could use Airbnb points on a future stay," she says. "The points always motivate me to keep going back to a company."
Gimme...dedicated customer service
Uber, which launched its rewards program in November and modeled it after airline miles programs, introduced 24/7 phone support (compared to the regular in-app bot and online assistance) for its highest tier Diamond members. Khoo suggests Airbnb offer a similar faster, personalized customer service to its elite guests, like Uber and the airlines.
New York-based realtor Rob Jackson, who has been booking with Airbnb since 2013, agrees. "When I call the Delta Medallion desk, they're very smooth with handling things," Jackson says. In his experience, that isn't always the case with Airbnb, especially when working through a cancellation and refund with customer service. "Especially if Airbnb is trying to appeal to a loyalty situation, they need to streamline what happens when you call them," he says. Admittedly, Jackson says, it may just be bad luck with agents, but his frustration points to his familiarity with personalized service from hotel and airline loyalty customer support. Having more preferential treatment from call centers at Airbnb would be welcome, he says.
Gimme... an arrivals lounge
We have have the tiniest hint as to where Airbnb is headed, thanks to a survey Jackson received in October, weeks after Greeley's announcement. The email, Jackson says, was surveying guests about potential Superguest perks—and one caught his eye. "Some of the questions seemed to indicate that Airbnb was considering setting up an arrivals lounge in certain popular city centers," he says.
Details were scant Jackson imagines you could shower after your long-haul flight, drop your bags in a locker if your Airbnb check-in wasn't until later in the day, and hook up to Wi-Fi to plan your next few hours of exploring. "With my SPG status, now Marriott, you get late check-out, and upgrade rooms, and free high-speed Wi-Fi—all these amenities and perks that are specific to being in a hotel, so I didn't think Airbnb could offer anything similar, since it comes down to a single host who can't upgrade you to a higher floor," he says. But being able to drop your bags and freshen up seems like Airbnb's best shot of meeting hotel perks in the middle, Jackson says.
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