In a move that should please Chinese travelers who are taking more trips more often, Chinese frequent flyers will soon be able to search for flights as well as information about the miles and points they’ll earn from loyalty programs thanks to a new partnership between Ctrip.com International and the California-based startup 30K, the world’s leading provider of frequent flyer-related content.
“Chinese travelers are becoming more sophisticated,” said Ctrip Group CTO and CEO of Ctrip’s Flights and International Business Units, Xiong Xing, in a company partnership announcement. He added that consumers now want “value-added information” that includes seat configuration and frequent flyer mileage accrual to aid in the flight booking decision-making process.
Announced just last week, this partnership will allow Ctrip’s users to compare how different fares can earn them miles. Now that airlines (particularly those in the U.S.) have altered how they reward travelers for their loyalty, travelers increasingly want to understand the benefits of fare options when they book tickets. And as airlines now offer greater rewards for certain tickets, displaying the loyalty program information for each flight can lead to increased revenue through upselling flight tickets.
“The Chinese travel audience continues to expand exponentially,” said 30K CEO and co-founder, Alex Jawad, in a company statement. “Ctrip has recognized the accelerated sophistication of this ever more important demographic by offering its valuable high-frequency travelers a de-commoditized experience.”
Known as a frequent flyer content provider, 30K adds another measurable to customer flight searches. The company aggregates frequent flyer details from 76 loyalty programs and over 100 airlines that will show up in Ctrip’s search details thanks to its Milefy API.
When asked whether expanding 30K’s service to China would benefit U.S. airlines that have had a difficult time competing with domestic carriers, Jawad told Jing Travel that “we…believe that our partnership with Ctrip opens the door for U.S. carriers to build on this newly found awareness of their loyalty programs in China.” Though he sees this partnership as a possible boost for those airlines currently operating in China, he also had a few words of caution. “On the other hand, the loyalty offer needs to match the expectations of the Chinese traveler and it could happen that carriers based in the region may target this market faster or in a better way.”
Ctrip and Qunar’s combined flight booking market share in China was over 57 percent in 1Q 2018
30K claims that offering rewards information improves customer retention, but Ctrip is likely not worried about losing customers, since it remains the top online travel agency (OTA) in Asia with a 36 percent share of the China market in 2017, according to the China-based data provider Analysys. It also has a significant foothold in the Western market through the flight fare aggregator Skyscanner. Ctrip, along with its subsidiary Qunar, held a more than 57 percent share of China’s flight booking market in the first quarter of 2018, also according to Analysys. Of course, that doesn’t mean that Ctrip wouldn’t welcome an even greater share of the Chinese or global OTA market.
“To date, we have definitively observed a switch from low fares to fares that provide higher value among a significant number of Western travelers,” said Jawad to Jing Travel. “In these early stages of our entry to the Chinese market, we have also made this observation with Chinese travelers. As they continue becoming much more sophisticated, we anticipate the share to grow over the coming years.”
While spending more for a flight to earn more frequent flyer miles can be enticing, it isn’t necessarily tempting enough to upsell to China’s millennial travelers who are less loyal to one specific airline or rewards program. In addition, with the continuing depreciation of the Chinese yuan, it may not only be millennial travelers searching for a flight deal without considering the potential rewards they could earn.