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Airbnb is expanding its partnership with American Express (Amex) in a move that will enable users of both to better leverage their Amex loyalty rewards benefits within the home-sharing service. Starting today, guests can not only use their Amex Membership Reward points to directly book their stays at a host property, but also can use their Amex account ID and password to create an Airbnb account, check out, and even verify their profile.
To entice Amex cardholders, Airbnb is offering a special through the end of 2015. U.S. card members can get $50 back when they spend $100 on a stay at an Airbnb property.
Although this isn’t the first time these two companies have done business with each other, this time around, there’s a much deeper technological integration. In 2014, Amex enabled its members to purchase Airbnb digital gift cards using their Membership Rewards points, but today’s deal looks like a more symbiotic arrangement in which both databases are in sync with each other.
“Amex members love to travel,” Leslie Berland, executive vice president for the credit card company’s global advertising, marketing, and digital partnerships, told VentureBeat in an interview. “Our Card Members love one-of-a-kind and memorable travel experiences, and with this partnership, we’re creating a frictionless and valuable way for them to take advantage of everything Airbnb has to offer.”
When a card holder finds an Airbnb property that they’d like to stay at, they can authenticate their card on Airbnb and the system will present an option to use any Reward balance that might be on that card. Berland told us that they offer a $0.70 per 100 points ratio, which is similar to other accommodation providers.
This service presents a unique opportunity for Airbnb, in that it’s the first time Amex has formed a direct relationship with an accommodation service. Lex Bayer, Airbnb’s head of global payments and business development, explained that, until now, when a card holder wanted to use points, all the processing needed to be done right from Amex’s website. But with this integration, that process is more intuitive and seamless.
Airbnb said it has also incorporated the credit card provider’s Express Checkout technology. Launched in July, this option lets cardholders enter their AmericanExpress.com username and password, pick a credit card on file, and use that data to process the transaction. This way, cardholders won’t have to re-enter their contact information every time they book an Airbnb stay.
Amex has also launched a registration feature aimed at helping new users create an Airbnb account. Berland shared that cardholders can simply enter their Amex credentials and the system will populate Airbnb’s set-up fields using data tied directly to their credit card number.
“We’re very excited to unveil a product that is safe, secure, and industrial strength when it comes to credit card information,” Berland said. “It’s also gives us a great ability to welcome Amex card members to Airbnb,” Bayer chimed in.
Transactional data from Amex won’t be shared with Airbnb, we’re told, but the point isn’t to understand where cardholders have traveled. It’s more about making it easier to set up a complete profile, which can be particularly useful in terms of verifying user’s identity within the Airbnb community.
In 2013, Airbnb launched Verified Identification in an effort to improve trust between not only hosts and guests, but also between users and the company. There are several steps users have to take in order to be vetted, but now another option is to include your Amex account. It may seem strange that having a credit card on file would make hosts feel more comfortable with a potential guest, but, as Berland and Bayer explained, it’s about having more details in your profile.
“Your Amex identity means something,” said Berland. “Amex members care about the fact that other consumers are Amex card members. Knowing that you’re a card member means something.”
She continued by saying: “If you think about someone’s profile, the richer their profile, the more you know about them. You also know that they’re a vetted profile, they’re more credible, and they are who they say they are. It doesn’t mean that they’re paying with an instrument, it means they have a reputation that they maintain with Amex.”
If it’s not apparent by now, Airbnb and Amex are clearly fond of travel and both have a culture of helping their customers get the most out of their experience. Michael Rouse, Amex vice president and general manager for membership rewards and loyalty experiences, once said: “When it comes to travel, our Card Members love unique experiences they can’t find anywhere else.” And these are the types of things one would typically find with Airbnb, which has made strides to really give its guests something more than just a place to stay. In 2012, Airbnb launched Neighborhoods to help guests find information about the area in which they’re staying, and let’s not forget about the company’s Apple Watch app, which offers more ways to communicate with hosts.
But this enhanced partnership comes as Airbnb faces some struggles, particularly in the form of government regulation. In its hometown of San Francisco, California, the company has been battling against a home sharing proposition that’s up for a vote on Tuesday. However, Amex remains undeterred, and told VentureBeat that it looks at the Airbnb relationship in terms of its growth, card engagement, and where the company is evolving. In other words, Amex is aware of the regulatory hurdles, but will continue to look at Airbnb holistically.
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