The CEO Who Lets You Earn Miles for All Spending at the Airport

I’ve gotten value from Thanks Again earning miles at brick and mortar retailers when I didn’t expect it. You register your credit card and then automatically earn miles at participating merchants, using the same kind of system that Rewards Network uses for dining to make the whole thing seamless, working in the background.

You can go out of your way to earn miles with their merchants, choosing to do business with the ones that rebate miles to you, or you can sign up and be surprised when you happened to earn miles without realizing up front that you would.

They’ve given me signup bonuses, and mileage-earning with them has counted towards larger partner bonus promotions. But I realized I didn’t actually understand their business model as they’ve moved from local dry cleaners and spas a decade ago to near total penetration across large US airports.

Here’s a 100 point signup bonus valid through December 31, 2016.

So I spoke with their CEO Marc Ellis, who explained a lot about the business that surprised me, and also shared that people are earning a lot more miles than I thought.

How did you go from dry cleaners to airports?

    We were a network of everyday businesses, dry cleaners and day spas, we pioneered working with those businesses on the cardlink platform. The issue was if you signed up a dry cleaner that had 500 customers, and you got 10% of their customers, you got 50 customers. We needed to scale the business, the amount of people we had access to. We built the infrastructure that managed that scale, we partnered with Visa, MasterCard, and American Express. …We can match and enroll any customer and work with any merchant that accepts those cards.

    That gave us support on the marketing side to build a customer base. Then we had to find a venue. We saw US airports and now global airports because an airport is basically a mall that happens to run flight services. The Atlanta airport has 350 locations: restaurants, shops, quick serve to fine dining and retail. Every one of those location groups are owned by different companies with different point of sale systems.

    In 2010 we talked to our first airports and asked, “wouldn’t you like to know more about passengers?” They had no way to gather data.

    Anchorage was our first airport in 2010. They have 3.6 million passengers per year, and no way to engage or build a database of passengers. Airlines have information on passengers but that’s not shared with the airport.

    Every non-aeronautical commercial entity in the airport that accepted Visa, MasterCard, and American Express would be a part of the program. They had 30 restaurants and retail outlets and we onboarded all of parking.

How do you get airport merchants to sign on? With local stores, they’re using your currency as a way to reward their customers and differentiate themselves from their competitors. In the airport, if every store is a member there’s no reason to choose one over another.

    Airports strongly suggest retailers launch the program. It increases revenue and gives the airport data. They suggest 100% of operators participate, and 95%-100% of operators do participate. They go along with the suggestion because it’s good for them and to [please] their landlord.

    Thanks Again is in over 100 US airports from Greenberg Spartanburg, to Dallas, Atlanta, to Seattle. [GL: Their launch at DFW coincided with a 25,000 mile bonus offer.]

    The average customer spends 17%-28% more per transaction, now that’s a combination of using credit and debit cards instead of cash, the demographic of members being business travelers with higher income, and offering rewards. The average parking transaction is 76% higher for members than than non-member transactions. People choose to park instead taking alternate transportation when on business because of the rewards. They reimburse the expense and earn the points.

How many miles can members earn, beyond just the standard 1 point per dollar?

    In addition to basic earning we want to put in cumulative spending bonuses across the network — up to 20, 30, 40, and even 50,000 points. We offer rewards for engagement, like taking a survey at airport for 1000 or 2000 points. We give enrollment bonuses, 100 points for download the app. The last big bonus was in December, and now we’re running social media share bonuses.

    The number one spender in the Atlanta airport spent over $10,000 there last year. That’s 10,000 in base earning but with spend bonuses they earned over 30,000 points.

    The program is free to join, the app gives access to airport and non-airport locations, and you can use your card anywhere. We have over 4000 restaurants outside the airport in the network. [GL: You can use the same credit card registered with Thanks Again as with Rewards Network, Ellis was unaware of whether there were any restaurants in both networks or whether that would allow for double dip.]

Tell me about the mobile app, because it’s a way to get discounts and not just earn points.

    The Thanks Again mobile platform lets individual retailers offer more. The mobile platform can communicate opportunities to members via notification when they hit airport. We’re beacon-enabled to message opportunities that are directly relevant exactly where customers are.

    Business travelers are significant creatures of habit. They park in the same lot, go through the same door, use same security line, go right to your gate. They may not be buying anything inside. We looked at the top 100 people spend on parking but who never shop, sent them an offer and got a 41% response rate generating spending in the airport.

    The benefit to the app is airport savings promotions, we’re queueing up offers and promotions like discounts with retailers for instance last year we did a Brooks Brothers 40% friends and family discount extended to Thanks Again members with the app.

How will we see Thanks Again grow?

    We’ll be launching in 2016 in Canada, South America, in Asia Pacific and in Mexico. Europe will likely be 2017, but Comarch is a minority investor has launched at Heathrow [GL: Heathrow Points], so we are working on a link between the programs for late 2016.

    Our goal is to get our membership to 25% of enplanements, although that’s just 5% of passengers. Our focus is on people that really utilize the airport 10-plus times per year.

    Later in 2016 we will introduce Thanks Again 2.1 which will offer point of sale points redemptions.

I hadn’t realized Thanks Again was as much a data play as a rewards play. Airports are generally taking a percentage of retail sales in addition to lease revenue so they’re trying to maximize spend (plus higher spend helps justify higher lease rates). I really appreciate Marc Ellis’ explanations!

There’s no reason not to sign up for Thanks Again, you earn miles passively and then can be targeted for discounts, and on top of the usual mileage earning they have regular promotions for bonus miles too.

The once a year traveler isn’t going to earn very many miles, especially earned at on average a point per dollar spent. But the regular traveler, especially the business traveler reimbursing expenses, will pick up a lot of extra miles. And even earning a few free miles are better than not earning those miles for sure — for something that takes no effort as it’s entirely passive once you sign up.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Our company has become a data company after establishing it as a B to C business. The revenue model is actually better as a B to B company because of the data aggregation. I am not at all surprised that Thanks Again is probably foremost a data company. Gary, have you thought about those possibilities for your business?

  2. How many airports are they actually in? I checked several that I regularly pass through and found very few on the list. Notably MSY, MSP, RIC and ORF all missing.

  3. After spending $4 on a protein bar that costs $1 at Trader Joe’s in Austin, I feel like I deserve some miles in exchange!

  4. I see that Uber is a partner in this program but I always see an email after the fact that reads, “Your transaction listed below has not accrued any rewards. However, we are working on adding new bonuses for your spending with the merchant listed below. “. I’m curious when Uber will get added/accrue points as I use it probably 10x times or more a week. Did he shed any light on this?

  5. @S
    It’s not working for me, either. I’m on Safari, if that has anything to do with it.

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