There are few experiences more exhilarating in life than travel – unless it’s doing it for free, that is. Frequent business fliers and globetrotters often make this a reality by collecting miles through airline rewards programs, but one startup is looking to make it possible for regular travelers, too.
Mileslife is an app and travel guide that allows users to earn miles through everyday spending on dining, accommodation, transportation, and other lifestyle offerings. The app has a ‘Local’ and ‘Travel’ section to distinguish between miles you earn by visiting merchants in your home city and miles you earn by booking a hotel or activity at your destination. Connect your frequent flyer program, make payments through the app, and watch the miles start rolling in.
It’s the art of traveling for free that first led the company’s Founder Troy Liu to ‘Living the Miles Life’ – a “travel hack” blog that documented his adventures in over 100 countries. His readership grew as he began to share best practices for earning miles and how to make the most of your travels by embracing the local experience. The blog’s success brought on an influencer status for Liu and attracted the attention of major airlines. By 2013, he was working as a consultant to help them design their rewards programs.
He observed the slow growth of users while working on these campaigns, as their reach was limited to frequent fliers who already had a sense of how loyalty programs work. At the same time, Liu’s interactions with readers of his blog led him to believe that “the airlines needed something that would bring the miles closer to the people and make it more real for them,” which became the solution he was looking for.
Mileslife launched in China in 2016, with Air China, China Eastern, China Southern, Hainan Airlines and British Airways as its first airline partners. Since then, the company has expanded to Singapore, Hong Kong, and Bangkok, working with 16 airline partners and over 20,000 merchant vendors.
Much of Liu’s takeaways from being a frequent traveler is reflected in the app, such as the convenience of being able to book all your traveling needs in one place and having a curated guide that goes beyond your typical tourist hotspots. Users can go island kayaking in Hong Kong and earn 104 miles or stay a night at a luxury villa in Bintan and earn 3900 miles, all in one place.*
With its airline-focus, Mileslife is the first reward platform of its kind. When asked, Liu says they’re “serving users with a long-term goal, whereas discount platforms serve the price-sensitive consumer looking for instant gratification.” He adds: “the consumer links our product to something more significant – memories, which is what you make when you travel; the consumer mentality and psychology behind it is completely different.”
Even so, growth hasn’t been without its challenges. First, there was the task of “building trust from the consumer perspective, especially when compared to established programs and services like the [American Express] Green Card or OTAs (online travel agencies).” Bringing on legitimate airline partners was a determinant factor in building this trust.
Expansion brought on a set of challenges in terms of localization, as the business model demanded the app’s features to go beyond multi-language operation. While there is only one app, multi-location operation requires each city to be populated by unique content and merchant selection. Additionally, “the nature of local versus traveling users has mobility in itself, so balancing between these factors was quite complicated,” explains Liu.
Mileslife will continue to accelerate the growth of their merchant and airline partners to provide more options to the user in 2019. When asked about what piece of advice he’d give to someone who also wants to see the world, Liu replies: “the key here is to travel deeper and meet local people, which will change the way you think and open your mind, eventually leading to a better understanding of yourself and what you want for your future.”
*The miles were earned during the testing period and may vary due to promotions.