While Airbnb dukes it out with local regulators and fights off encroaching rivals, the company continues to look at ways of increasing the margins that it makes around its accommodation service and improving overall loyalty on its platform. In the latest move, Airbnb appears to be working on an “Experience Card” — a prepaid MasterCard credit card for Airbnb guests to spend up to $1,000 while travelling on most goods and services.
And from the looks of the site we’ve seen, Experience Card would also function as a loyalty card of sorts. Users earn back 10% of each card purchase as a credit towards future transactions on Airbnb. And to sweeten the deal the company also offers a map of recommendations from locals to help a user plan a trip.
Experience Card was first spotted by Matteo Gamba, after he found a page describing the service that went live briefly on Airbnb. (The page has since been taken down, but here is a cached copy.)
Interestingly, it seems to have surfaced just around the time that some regular users started to get contacted over a similarly named Airbnb service, “Experiences,” which sounds like the local recommendations that are a part of the Experience Card.
The main page for the Experience Card offers users to “Spend like a New Yorker – easily and securely.” The card comes preloaded with $1,000, the site says, but you would only get charged for what is spent on the card, and only after the trip is finished — presumably using the payment details that Airbnb already holds for you.
The card itself is advertised as free to get but there are limits. Airbnb notes in its FAQs (also cached) that while you can use the card for purchases anywhere MasterCard is accepted, the card cannot be used for car rentals, recurring expenses like phone bills, online gambling, hotel spend (!), cash withdrawal at an ATM or cash back at the register, or at Automated Fuel Dispensers at gasoline stations.
Separately, the Experiences feature was flagged on ProductHunt yesterday, with the poster noting that he’d also received a note from Airbnb inviting him to share his experiences:
“You’ve travelled quite a bit on Airbnb, so I wanted to invite you to be one of the first experience hosts here in San Francisco,” the note reads. “We’re looking for amazing folks to share authentic San Francisco dinner parties, food and pub crawls, and brunch gatherings the week of December 1st. Whether it’s an intimate dinner at your house, a rosé brunch in the park, dinner and a bonfire at the beach, or a serendipitous excursion to your favorite pop-up in the Mission, every idea you share is a chance for a traveler to belong in San Francisco.”
A post on travel site Tnooz notes that Airbnb seems to be preparing to launch its Experience crowdsourced recommendations service formally — it has actually been live in the form of a test since May 2014.
For a while now, Airbnb — which reportedly raised $1.5 billion on a $25.5 billion valuation in June of this year — has been looking for ways of expanding the experience on its platform beyond the initial act of looking for and booking accommodation.
Other efforts have included Neighborhoods — hyperlocal travel guides — and Local Lounges, which enlist local cafes and other venues to “welcome” visitors into neighborhoods and provide information to them. The idea here is to bring more business into these places as a way of showing that Airbnb can be a boost for local economies.
In that sense, the Experience Card is a way for Airbnb to close that loop. Now Airbnb not only points you to places to go, but it helps you spend money while you are there.
MasterCard is not the only company working with Airbnb on this — the company also announced a tie-up with American Express at the beginning of November that will let AmEx account holders to sign up to Airbnb using their AmEx.com username and password, and then use AmEx’s instant checkout to make bookings and spend Membership Rewards.
The Experience Card could also help Airbnb improve its own margins on users.
For those who are travelling in the same country where they live, the card could prove useful as another line of credit for your trip. For those travelling abroad (for example to the Olympics in Rio in 2016, or Paris, where Airbnb is holding a big conference for hosts later this month) this could prove to be an attractive alternative to using their own from-home payment cards and getting roped into their banks’ foreign exchange fees.
What is less clear is whether Airbnb would charge its own exchange fee, or what rate it would use, when it deducts what you’ve spent in your local currency.
The Experience Card and its rewards program could also help users simply feel more tied to the Airbnb experience and feel like they are getting a bigger bang for their buck.
Expedia’s acquisition of HomeAway is one signal for why Airbnb needs to up its game on that front: now Expedia users will be able to rent their traditional hotel alternatives, and book their flights, cars and find deals on things to do, all in one place.
There may be more services developed down the line yet: the company in September acquired and shut down multi-city planning app Vamo, and while it did not buy activity concierge site Sosh, it clearly has an interest in going beyond accommodation and into accommodating activities on its platform.
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