Loyalty Programs Miss Opportunities for Rental Car Integrations

If you’ve been following the travel industry’s pandemic recovery, you’ve likely seen reports that car rental is surging, including stories of travelers renting uHauls in popular beach destinations because no cars were available. Car rental has indeed had the fastest and sharpest recovery of all travel ancillary products. As of June of this year, the category has seen 8 straight months of growth in total bookings, according to iSeatz transaction data. Our data also shows average booking value way up from 2019, as high as 129% increase YOY in May.

This surge is a result of a lack of supply - largely due to rental companies selling off portions of their fleets during 2020 and a semiconductor shortage hindering their ability to replace them quickly - combined with an increase in demand. Overall leisure travel is increasing, but international restrictions have kept people more local; plus many travelers still view driving as a “safer” alternative to other modes of transportation. 

Even without the current market factors, car rental is a critical component for travel reward programs and one of the largest transaction drivers in an ancillary portfolio. In our recent State of Loyalty: 2021 Hotel Ancillary Report, we examined the ancillary strategies of over 30 leading hospitality brands. Despite it being the biggest ancillary transaction driver, only 9 of the 33 hotels we reviewed have both earn and burn opportunities for car rental incorporated into their loyalty programs. 

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With or without the current surge in bookings and average booking value, that’s a lot of ancillary revenue left on the table. Not only that, it’s also a missed opportunity to engage guests with a critical element of their journeys and potentially offer even further value to loyalty members given the current rental landscape. Could larger corporate partnerships help with availability and price surging? It certainly makes business sense that rental companies would prioritize volume-driven relationships over individual renters. 

While this under-utilization of car rental in hotel loyalty programs is surprising, there’s another element worth highlighting. Most hotel loyalty programs that include car rental are facilitated through a link-off to book directly with their rental partner of choice. In fact, of the major hoteliers offering point burn for car rental, Marriott and Hilton are the only 2 with direct booking via their online reward platforms. A fully integrated booking path does require financial investment to build and host, but there’s more to these economics than meets the eye. Why is this something hoteliers should consider?

  • Link-offs create a broken user experience. Loyalty member recognition disappears, with travelers having to re-enter their information and frequently forced to sign-in with the rental company.
  • Wasting valuable marketing resources. You spend time and money to acquire these customers, but by sending them off your site, you lose branding and customer engagement in the process.
  • Missed opportunities to cross-sell. A fully-integrated booking path allows you to promote other products of interest to your members. And these cross-selling opportunities have shown to have higher take-rates.
  • Missed opportunities to up-sell. You can’t apply your own business rules for special promotions based on membership tier, vendor preference, or other personalization tokens from your member data.
  • Lower conversion rates. At iSeatz we’ve found that our custom designed, branded frontend experiences convert at a rate 30% higher or more than standard affiliate link-offs

Of course, the points above apply to all ancillary products in a reward portfolio, not just car rental, but as one of the key trip components, both in terms of use and revenue, it’s where hoteliers will likely see the quickest return on their investment.

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