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Co-brand & Travel Rewards 2023 brings focus to cobranded payment cards and travel loyalty

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By: Bill Hanifin, CLMP™ |

Posted on October 27, 2023

Conference report on AiConnect travel loyalty event

The Co-Brand & Travel Rewards 2023 conference was held in Wilmington, Delaware October 18th and 19th, 2023. The event is organized and hosted by AiConnect, and they gave a tip of the hat to Wilmington as being the “Co-Brand Capital of the USA”. Indeed, the downtown area seems to have as many banks as people walking the streets.

Wise Marketer was a media sponsor for this one-plus day event (there was a half day track and reception on the 18th with a full day of content on the 19th).  The content was focused on the central themes of today’s travel loyalty and cobrand markets. Just to make sure you know, co-branded travel-related credit cards are the biggest drivers of ancillary revenue at airlines and hotels – and that’s why this was an important event to attend if you are interested in this part of the business world.

Tom Madden, EVP and Managing Partner, Phaedon (formerly ICF Next) was the day’s master of ceremonies and introduced Chuck Christianson, Chief Revenue Officer, cXLoyalty to get the main day started. Chuck shared a very interesting history of cobrand payment cards and made an impassioned plea for the those in attendance to rise up and contact their respective legislative representatives to voice opposition to the pending legislation known as the Credit Card Competition act of 2023.

Bill Hanifin, Wise Marketer Group CEO moderated a panel featuring Kenneth Purcell, CEO, iSeatz and Phil Rubin, Founder and Principal, Grey Space Matters talking about how to drive co-brand transactions by making travel spend central to engagement. iSeatz recently published its 2023 tipping point survey, work based on a group of 2,116 consumers from the United States who belong to any branded loyalty, rewards, frequent customer, or subscription program that incorporates travel in any way , as well as 151 loyalty program managers in the United States who work for a company that currently has a loyalty program and are involved in a decision making capacity for that loyalty program. The surveys were conducted during August and September 2023.

Kenneth outlined the size of the market, citing data from JPMorgan Chase. The bank, which launched ChaseTravel.com last year, said travel sales volume was about $8 billion in 2022 and estimated it will be $10 billion this year, growing to $15 billion in 2025.

He went on to share key highlights from the 2023 Tipping Point survey to define the current state of travel loyalty in the cobrand space.

  • 49% of consumers said what they valued most in their loyalty program was saving money on travel, up from 43% in 2022.
  • Increasing customer lifetime value was the top goal for 11% of loyalty program professionals. 16% say building a more robust earning and redemption portfolio is their highest priority, the #1 response
  • Last year, 44% of surveyed loyalty programs reported targeting the general population; in 2023, that number has dropped to only 23%.
  • The percentage of brands targeting “luxury” audiences increased from 11% to 23%, for a total percentage of respondents targeting “luxury” and "high net worth,” totaling 33% - or 1/3 of the companies surveyed.
  • Half (50%) of all respondents said that lifestyle rewards account for 21-30% of their program’s total redemption volume.

Phil talked about the importance of establishing a “connected journey” for travelers, meaning a travel booking platform that seamlessly delivers a wide portfolio of travel and lifestyle rewards to cardholders. The ability to book, earn, and redeem on these reward options and services drives engagement and results in higher overall spending on the cobrand’s card rails.

Supporting this idea, Phil and Kenneth cited findings from the Tipping Point 2023 survey that 27% of consumers would book travel through their loyalty program more frequently if it offered a wider array of travel options. The technology required to move the needle in terms of engagement, retention, and spending centers on providing more flexibility to handle future market and customer needs.

  • 43% of those surveyed in the Tipping Point 2023 believed the most important element of loyalty tech platforms that needs improvement was flexibility, followed by
  • Functionality to improve personalization capabilities (39%), and
  • Ability to incorporate multiple content and inventory sources (37%)

The panel session was followed by a look at why travel continues to be the redemption of choice for consumers. This discussion was led by Sarah Bock, VP Commercial, Rocket Travel by Agoda and Jenny Rose, Director of Marketing, Rocket Travel.

Michael Smith, Michael Smith, Board Advisor, Airline Information led a multi-person panel on the topic of “Lessons from Regulated & Non-US Markets” and the day continued in the afternoon with appearances by some of the most respected travel loyalty minds in the business.

Dave Canty, SVP Head of Loyalty & Partnerships, Bilt Rewards and Steve Arsenault, Technology & Sales Consultant, S J Arsenault Consulting covered lessons learned from the Bilt Rewards experience and Jack Funda, SVP Business Development & Partnerships, Visa and Jay Sorensen, President, IdeaWorksCompany shared a roundup of Co-Branding from around the world from a network perspective.