With an increasing number of Chinese travelers heading abroad, mileage rewards programs around the globe are partnering with a Chinese app company that will help members of China’s growing middle class get the most out their everyday purchases. Called Mileslife, the app allows users to earn frequent flyer miles at more than 1,000 high-end restaurants, hotels, resorts, and more across the country.
Mileslife now collaborates with a total of 10 airline partners, including British Airways, United Airlines’ Mileage Plus rewards program, and Singapore Airlines’ KrisFlyer program. When it first launched a year ago, Mileslife also partnered with mileage programs supported by Chinese airlines, including China Southern Airlines’ Sky Pearl Club and Sichuan Airlines’ Golden Panda.
United’s collaboration with Mileslife is the first partnership of its kind with a Chinese loyalty program. The airline company has been broadening its scope in China as the demand for more non-stop flights to the United States continues to expand, adding more every year. United’s partnership, along with the frequent flyer program partnerships from the UK and Europe, suggests airlines are increasingly eager to capitalize on the growing market of Chinese outbound travelers by allowing them to earn even more rewards via domestic spending and thus have more incentives to travel overseas.
The app also reflects the overwhelming use of mobile payment systems in China. While most frequent flyer programs are currently attached to credit cards, Mileslife gives China’s smartphone users a hassle-free way of earning points. Mileslife CEO Troy Liu said in a press conference that the app users also benefit in terms of the amount of miles they can accumulate with the app—Mileslife users earn one airline mile for every 1 to 4 RMB they spend on the app compared to an average of one mile for every 20 RMB using credit cards, he said.
However, unlike credit cards, which usually reward the user for any purchase, the app works with a curated selection of merchant partners around China where users can spend money to gain miles. Partnerships include both large corporations like the Park Hyatt and TGI Fridays (which fits more in a premium restaurant category in China compared to the United States), and boutique luxury businesses like the Rosewood Hotel in Beijing, craft beer bar C2H60, and Temple Restaurant Beijing. Most of the partnerships are with high-end companies, but there are also many mid-range and premium services represented on the app to respond to growing demand for travel from China’s rising middle class consumers.
Those who use the app also have the incentive to spend more and earn miles faster by setting goals for places they want to visit using air miles. Once they spend enough to reach their target goal, they will be granted bonus miles through Mileslife.
Liu said in a press conference that he started the app because he saw a need for a program that gave an alternative to flights being the only way to accumulate miles, and one that had more benefits than a credit card. “Only a really big spender can earn miles on the credit card,” he said. Aside from planned expansion overseas and adding a shopping mall category to their merchants list, they soon plan to roll out a loyalty program within the app, giving users the chance to earn discounts and rewards when they keep going back to the merchants that Mileslife partners with.