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Maximizing Rewards

Last night I spent a couple of hours going over our personal finances

Arson Reward

Last night I spent a couple of hours going over our personal finances which included me spending some time on the American Express customer portal.  Amex does a good job of letting you on their portal where you could be buying to maximize your membership rewards points.  They will often tell you things like “Buy at FTD.com and earn double points” (I don’t know if FTD.com is actually a partner, I’m just using this as an example).  The airlines do this as well, letting you earn points if you purchase online from certain vendors.

I think its great that Amex, the airlines, and whomever else,  is giving me the chance to earn additional rewards points, but when I am going to purchase something online, I never check americanexpress.com and AA.com before buying whatever it is I am planning on buying.  So I have no idea where I should be buying to get these extra points.  My guess is that most other people don’t check for these promotions, either.

It would be great if somehow my purchase intent or purchase history could be used to identify opportunities to generate rewards points for these purchases.   I’d happily give my purchase history to someone who could identify my regular purchasing patterns and tell me where I should be buying in order to maximize my points and minimize my cost.  I don’t think it would be that hard to watch the major airlines and card companies and maintain a database of the latest offers, and let me know about the most relevant mileage earning opportunities.This was something I had hoped Mint would do for me, given  that it has a slew of purchase data, although as of yet it hasn’t helped in that department (BTW, someone tell me if Mint actually does this and I’m just not using it the right way!)  Incidentally, it looked like one of my credit card portals was doing some recommendations based on my purchase history, but it appeared to be a strict if/then proposition (e.g. If John bought a book on Amazon, then we’ll recommend he try Borders next time and we’ll give him a discount as incentive).

Purchase intent is a different story and probably a tougher nut to crack.  Perhaps you could have a shopping search engine where users would input their relevant hotel, frequent flier, and credit card rewards programs, allowing the search engine to look for items where you’d get bonus points for purchasing.  When they searched for an item, the search engine could consider price but also potential rewards points as a way to prioritize and categorize results.

Of course, that supposes that someone will want to use a specific portal to do their initial searches.  I’m not sure that’s a reasonable assumption.  Maybe there is a plugin approach that semantically analyzes the page on which you’re shopping (e.g. amazon.com, buy.com, etc) and visually flag items that will be bonused on purchase.  For example, let’s say American Airlines has a promotion running where you’ll receive bonus miles for staying in a specific hotel, if you are on aa.com, Orbitz, Kayak, etc, the plugin could alert you of this when booking a hotel.   Or, if you are on Amazon.com and you’re clearly looking to buy a toaster, the plugin could let you know that Amex will give you 2x rewards points if you buy at crateandbarrel.com, who also carries the toaster.  The plugin might even do a price comparison for you so you can see if there is a price differential which might make the earning of rewards less appealing.

I think a plugin would be pretty slick, but the challenge there is to get people to actually install it in their browser.  Most users don’t knowingly use plugins, so you’d need to overcome that hurdle in order to get serious adoption of the service.  I don’t know – maybe you start with an asynchronous model (i.e. upload your credit card bill, and we’ll tell you where to buy next time) and use it to generate leads for the plugin.

So what’s the business model?  I imagine the card companies, airlines, etc would like to make more people aware of the promotions they’re running (advertising), and the vendors would like to sell product to those same customers (lead generation).

I haven’t run the numbers to see if this could be a big business, but I know it’s something I would definitely use.  Bits and pieces of this solution are out there (think Mint and Billshrink on the bill analysis side and maybe Mashlogic or AdaptiveBlue on the plugin side) but as far as I know there is nothing that connects the dots.

I’d love to hear what kinds of services or sites you use to maximize your earning of rewards points, as well as your thoughts on this business idea.

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Posted in Uncategorized Tagged: adaptiveblue, amex, billshrink, consumer, credit card, mashlogic, mint, orbitz

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More Stories By John Gannon

John Gannon is an Associate at L Capital Partners, a $165-million fund looking to advance companies with the potential to take groundbreaking products to market. He blogs at http://johngannonblog.com. Prior to joining L Capital Partners, John worked with Highland Capital Partners and Chart Venture Partners to identify and evaluate new opportunities in the enterprise IT sector. He also served as a consultant advising startup companies on business development, product strategy and venture capital fundraising. He currently sit on the board of advisers of VAlign Software.