How to craft an intelligent affiliate program that enhances your travel business

Affiliate marketing is nothing new in travel.

In fact, affiliate programs feature prominently in several current unicorns, such as Uber, Lyft, and Airbnb, as well as companies like Kayak. Travel giant Expedia has built a massive engine out of its affiliates, with the Expedia Affiliate Network offering a plug-and-play model for affiliates to grow their travel bookings.

We sat with William Beckler, technical writer for Fareportal Labs and affiliate marketing expert, to understand the way that affiliates work for partners — and to glean some starting insights for those looking to successfully build and manage an affiliate program.

Affiliates are a big part of the travel ecosystem. For those new to the concept, what are affiliates and how does it generally work in travel?

Affiliate marketing rewards partners through revenue sharing or paying commission for referred business, but it covers a wide range of approaches including mobile apps, email, and content marketing. Travel affiliate programs have generally been link-based meaning a partner will link back to an offer of an e-commerce site. Kayak is an example of an affiliate marketing platform.

We’re excited with the new Fareportal API as it will let partners conduct the full booking process right on their site or app. This is a necessity in the age of mobile.

How do affiliates help travel businesses grow? Is it about market share or actual revenue growth? 

Business is getting personal, and affiliates allow for targeting customers with the right products at the right time. Affiliate partnerships make sense for everyone in the travel ecosystem. These partnerships give smart start-ups and entrepreneurs the opportunity to generate meaningful revenue by doing what they do best, delivering goods and services in new and relevant ways to their users.

Selling flights, hotels, and cars and handling customers globally are complex and expensive processes to build from scratch. The OTAs also win through affiliates. CPC ad rates are skyrocketing. Everyone’s bidding on the same keywords in an attempt to get traffic but it’s an arms race that no one is winning.

Affiliate partnerships build market share while reducing the cost of acquisition, creating an opportunity to share those savings with partners and the end customer.

What benefits do these relationships bring to the affiliates themselves?

For startups and partners in the travel space, finding the right product, market and fit is only part of the battle. The complexity and cost associated with building your own booking platform are prohibitive for all but the most well-funded partners.

Affiliates get an opportunity to generate real revenue by doing what they do best, giving their customers the products and services they want through an innovative and personalized experience.

What are some best practices for affiliates when choosing partner businesses?

Affiliates are in the business of making money, so a key consideration is who pays the best for bookings. And often the partner that pays the best is also the one with the highest quality product, which is how they command the high commissions in the first place.

Next, an affiliate needs to look at the compatibility of the product offering with the affiliate’s positioning. For example, an affiliate that is targeting backpackers needs to make sure that an affiliate program offers a good selection of low-end accommodations or low-cost flights.

Finally, not all travel affiliate programs work the same. Some only offer a list of deeplinks. Some offer pricing APIs with varying levels of speed and accuracy.

For today’s apps and integrations, booking is becoming a necessity, as the deep-linking model is mostly played out. Most major affiliates are evolving toward booking-based programs. Before an affiliate chooses an affiliate program, they need to make sure they’ll be able to eventually implement bookings through a booking API.

What about travel businesses interested in starting an affiliate program? What are the two to three things they must consider before launching a program?

Successful affiliate programs require a dedicated team who puts the client first. These partnerships are mission critical for the startups and entrepreneurs which can make or break their business. This takes resources, both financially and with staff, and most importantly a long-term commitment to do right by their partners.

The most important feature of a successful affiliate program is having the resources to support affiliates with solid customer service. From a development perspective, this also includes offering ease-of-use and making it simple for affiliates to engage with a program so they make money quickly and efficiently.

Once a program is launched, what are the things that travel businesses must do to keep affiliates engaged?

The only thing constant in the travel business is change. An affiliate marketing team must stay abreast of changes both within their affiliate partners and within their own business. As technologies, strategies and APIs change, affiliates like to be kept in the loop and informed in time to keep things synchronized properly.

The best affiliate relationships are ones where the advertising partner and the publisher/affiliate are evolving together and looking out for each others’ growth.

This weekend tnooz and Fareportal are hosting a hackathon specifically focused on affiliates in travel. What are some of the ways that an affiliate program can be used by developers to create new products?

While travel app ideas are a dime a dozen, there are only a few players who figure out how to make money. Getting signed up with a top monetization partner early allows new projects to prove their viability and survive the first stages of growth.

While there are many options for link-based affiliates, Fareportal’s high flight commissions help it rise above the fray and can mean the difference for a new travel startup that’s seeking viability. Also, there’s no other major online travel agency with flight, car, and hotel booking APIs that are available to all affiliates.

Because Fareportal has massive reach with flights, hotels, and car rentals, all kinds of applications are possible, from voice-enabled services, AI-enhancement, plugins, widgets, and apps. We’ll probably be seeing brand new models of travel research and booking as new ideas encounter this broad range of booking APIs.

Finally, are there any examples of top-notch affiliate programs outside the travel industry that we should take as a useful case study?

Amazon has one of the world’s largest affiliate programs. They make it easy for all levels of affiliates to promote their products, with helper applications and a full-featured API. They share detailed sales data with their affiliate partners to help them optimize their own sites and increase their sales. Amazon offers its partners a frictionless linking system, and they are generous around attribution and commissions. In their quest to be the “earth’s most customer-friendly company” they have also become the earth’s most affiliate-friendly company.

Inspired? Join us this weekend in NYC to build an integration for your current startup — or build an entirely new product! Click to register

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Nick Vivion

About the Writer :: Nick Vivion

Nick is the Editorial Director for tnooz. Prior to this role, Nick has multi-hyphenated his way through a variety of passions: restaurateur, photographer, filmmaker, corporate communicator, Lyft driver, Airbnb host, journalist, and event organizer.

 

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  1. Max Kraynov

    Will, could you please share the absolute numbers (say, bookings or tickets/rooms) that go through your platforms? That would put things in the proper context.
    Thanks 🙂

     
 
 

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