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This is the first of an irregular series we’re calling ‘Startup Spotlight’ here at InsideFlyer. The idea is to take a look at exciting new players in the travel industry and get the #InsideTrack on what they have to offer.
We are very grateful to the good people at EarnAway for giving up so much of their time – and for the generous exclusive offer they’ve agreed to make available to all InsideFlyer readers! – full details here.
InsideFlyer interviewed EarnAway CEO and co-founder Joshua James last week to find out more about the company (and to ask if he’s a Points / Miles enthusiast too – he definitely is!).
Hi Josh, tell me a bit about EarnAway
The essential idea behind EarnAway was to create a site that allows users to compare hotel room rates and earn incredible rewards at the same time.
Our aim isn’t simply to target existing users of cashback sites. Instead we want to offer people who are booking hotels a much better experience, saving them time and money by using us to find the best deal (EarnAway offer a Best Price Guarantee) – and giving them the opportunity to earn rewards on top.
We focus on the user experience of booking a hotel rather than being a more generic “cashback site”. Let’s call it being a “specialist” rather than a jack of all trades!
How did you get started?
EarnAway was born from frustration with current hotel meta search engines and the apparent “lack of value” that they offered users. Because of price parity agreements, the prices of hotel rooms are often really very similar and thus the value that certain existing hotel comparison engines offered users was limited. We thought that by combining hotel room rate price comparison and rewards, we could create a compelling user proposition for members.
The founding team of EarnAway is myself (Joshua James) and Rob Berrisford. We had both been working in the industry (predominantly affiliate) for around 10 years. We first thought of the proposition 2 years ago and spent 6 months working through the details.
As we started thinking about getting investment, I had to let my intentions known to Quidco where I was working as a Product Director, and that’s where discussions began about launching it as a joint venture between ourselves and Maple Syrup Media (parent company of Quidco). We started development in May 2015 and launched publicly in January 2016.
How’s it been going so far?
It’s been really interesting building something from the bottom up and overcoming all of the challenges you may or may not imagine come with that! You’ve got to try and be slightly cleverer about things, as you’re not going to compete with the budgets of some of the giants in travel.
We’re at around 50,000 users thus far – though things have most certainly not always gone according to plan!
In particular, we had a blow with a big partner in January which forced us to change plans. Building a startup means you need to be prepared to adjust – some things we thought would work haven’t and certain ideas which we weren’t so sure about have gone better than expected.
It’s cliched, but as a startup you have to be nimble and agile in order to survive, so if something doesn’t work, you need to find another way to make it work. That makes things interesting, but it can also be incredibly stressful as you float from “nothing works” to “this is going to work” and back again!
EarnAway is only live in the UK right now, but we are planning to launch in the US in the New Year which is another exciting step forward.
What are ‘AwayPoints???’
So, we’re moving away, no pun intended, (“Please don’t apologise, we love bad puns.”) from standard cashback to offering ‘AwayPoints’ and there are a couple of reasons behind the change.
First off, and possibly most importantly, is to bring three big booking providers (Expedia Inc group – Expedia, Hotels.com and ebookers) back into the hotel search. They had an issue with the rewards being displayed purely as cash rather than a ‘virtual currency’ like Points.
Secondly, offering Points will enable us to later drive more value for users when they exchange their rewards, being able to give them more than simply cash into their bank – things like discounted gift cards, experiences, air miles, etc. It opens up a lot more opportunities. Often, users don’t just want to earn cash which gets lost when it hits their bank account; they want something slightly more tangible, or something from which they can leverage more value from.
Another thing we’re keen to highlight to our users is the fact that they can benefit from earning AwayPoints, in addition to a booking partner’s own loyalty scheme (eg. Hotels.com Rewards)!
I think I just heard our readers ears prick up when you said “air miles”… can you share more details about that?
We’re currently in discussions with some of the bigger airline loyalty platforms (including Avios and Virgin Flying Club), as well as some hotel group loyalty platforms.
Unfortunately, from a commercial perspective these conversations are quite sensitive so we can’t reveal too much. Rest assured though that our focus is always on how we can get the best value and develop the best deal for our users, so we’re keen to ensure that any deals are as strong as they can be before they’re launched on the site.
What does the future look like for EarnAway?
Things move so quickly it’s very difficult to think of the future with any degree of accuracy. Right now our sole focus is on growing our number of users, their experience and thus their engagement.
From a product perspective there are a number of options – expanding into other popular travel verticals (flights, packages, car hire, other accommodation), into other international markets and/or the value of a dedicated mobile app. However these decisions will very much be driven by our ability to improve user experience, which we feel is paramount to achieving growth.
Finally, do you get to travel much yourself these days?
I travel a fair amount, but unfortunately don’t have as much time as I’d like to do it purely for pleasure. I took some of my family to Disney World in Orlando this summer which was amazing.
I’m a real points junkie – Nectar, Avios, Virgin Atlantic Flying Club Miles, OpenTable and of course, AwayPoints!
EarnAway have agreed to triple their standard first booking bonus, as an exclusive gift to InsideFlyer readers. You can find the full details here and it only takes a minute to sign up.
In case you were wondering, InsideFlyer isn’t receiving any payment or referral credits for running this interview and promotion. We genuinely want to find out more about interesting travel startups and share what they are up to with our readers.