Ask a Travel Nerd: Where’s My Airbnb Loyalty Program?
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Since 2016, I’ve spent $26,243 on 50 bookings with Airbnb. (Yes, I went through and added them up.) That’s more than I spent with Amazon in the same time period — $10,434 — and probably more than I’ve spent with any single company over that span.
So I must have, like, Ultra-Adamantium Elite status with Airbnb, right? Unfortunately, no, because Airbnb doesn’t have a loyalty program. There’s no elite status to earn, points to accrue or little welcome gifts to receive at check-in.
Despite spending a small fortune with the vacation rental giant, I don’t even get a cool badge next to my username.
But there’s hope: Airbnb announced a new loyalty program, called Superguest, defined on its website as “a new guest membership program offering benefits across the entire trip.”
Even so, there’s bad news, too. That announcement was made back in 2018 and there hasn’t been an official update since.
So, what’s the deal? As competition within the vacation rental space mounts and traveler patience with cleaning fees and disappointing rentals grows thin, will the platform throw a bone to its most frequent customers to make an Airbnb loyalty program?
The outlook doesn’t look good
Why hasn’t Airbnb introduced a rewards program in its 15-year history?
“Airbnb is a noun and a verb around the world, and we are proud of our global platform,” said Liz DeBold Fusco, an Airbnb spokesperson, in an emailed statement. “Our focus for the coming year is on perfecting the core service and beginning to build the foundation to expand beyond the core.”
I actually love the first part of this statement, because it’s so brazen. Airbnb is simply too successful to bother with a loyalty program. Does Kleenex have a loyalty program?
No, because the word “Kleenex” has become practically interchangeable with the word tissue. What are you gonna do, buy Puffs?
Despite all the hemming about cleaning fees and hawing about an “Airbnbust,” the company recorded its best fourth quarter ever in 2022, with $1.9 billion in revenue, per its shareholder letter.
Airbnb continues to grow, and dominate the competition, without a loyalty program. So what’s the point of adding one?
I’ll be the first one to tell you that Airbnb’s competition just isn’t up to snuff. I did a head-to-head analysis comparing it to major competitor Vrbo and it wasn’t even close. Airbnb is just better.
The business of Airbnb isn’t business travel
Another major factor reducing the likelihood of an Airbnb loyalty program? Business travelers. Or rather, the lack of business travelers who stay at vacation rentals.
The big airline and hotel rewards programs were built to attract and maintain business travelers, who spend a lot on travel. Nabbing these frequent travelers is highly valuable, so travel rewards programs are willing to offer them expensive perks such as first-class upgrades and extra rewards points.
Contrast that with Airbnb, which, despite some efforts to attract corporate travel bookers, doesn’t have a clear toehold in the business travel space. Without these big spenders, a loyalty program might not make sense.
That said, some leisure guests are staying longer at Airbnbs, possibly because of the rise of remote work and digital nomadism. Nearly a fifth of nights booked in 2022 were made by guests with reservations of 28 days or more, according to the company’s latest shareholder letter.
So the question will be whether guests pursuing long-term stays are comparison shopping with the platform’s competitors or are happy booking through Airbnb.
I don’t need no stinking badge
My spending on Airbnb has dropped off a cliff since the pandemic.
That’s not just because I’ve been traveling less. In fact, I actually lived in a hotel in Seattle through much of the pandemic.
That might seem nuts, but I calculated how many IHG One Rewards points and elite status benefits I would accrue and determined that booking a similarly priced Airbnb simply made no sense.
Airbnb might not have much competition in the vacation rental space, but it does in the lodging space. That is, guests who want a loyalty program (like me) can always stay with a big-brand hotel.
Would I like a badge next to my username for the tens of thousands I’ve spent on Airbnb? Yes. Would I like a cool avatar with a custom sword or something? Also yes.
But am I going to wait for Airbnb to roll out a loyalty program so I can earn them? Probably not.
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