Airbnb Working On ‘Experience Card’: Preloaded $1K MasterCard + Rewards Program

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While Airbnb dukes it out with local regulators and fights off encroaching rivals, the company continues to look at ways of increasing the margins that it makes around its accommodation service and improving overall loyalty on its platform. In the latest move, Airbnb appears to be working on an “Experience Card” — a prepaid MasterCard credit card for international Airbnb guests to spend up to $1,000 while travelling in the U.S. covering most goods and services.

A source at Airbnb says the Experience Card is still in its “exploratory phase”. In other words, it is not yet being piloted or tested. But from the looks of the what we’ve seen in a staging area, there has been a lot of groundwork laid regardless: in addition to a home page, there is a detailed page of terms of use, a FAQ page, and a Cardholder Agreement page. (Update: Since this article was published, cached links to the home page have disappeared. The other three still exist for now in cache form.)

From the home page, it looks like the Experience Card would have two main functions: as a prepaid card for up to $1,000; and as a loyalty card. For the latter, users earn back 10% of each card purchase as a credit towards future transactions on Airbnb. To sweeten the deal, the company also notes that Experience Card users get a map of recommendations from locals to help plan their trip.

The Cardholder Agreement page notes that Airbnb would work with Ohio-based Sutton Bank to provide the card. Sutton works with a number of other third parties on prepaid cards, including Sprint on its Money Express product.

The Terms of Use note that “the purpose of the program is to provide the Card as a payment method for Airbnb users traveling to the United States for purchases during their Trip.”

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Experience Card was first spotted by Matteo Gamba, after he found a page describing the service that went live briefly on Airbnb.

Interestingly, it seems to have surfaced just around the time that some regular users started to get contacted over a similarly named Airbnb service, “Experiences,” which sounds like the local recommendations that are a part of the Experience Card. The Experiences feature was flagged on ProductHunt earlier this week, along with a note from Airbnb inviting the poster to share his experiences:

“You’ve travelled quite a bit on Airbnb, so I wanted to invite you to be one of the first experience hosts here in San Francisco,” the note reads. “We’re looking for amazing folks to share authentic San Francisco dinner parties, food and pub crawls, and brunch gatherings the week of December 1st. Whether it’s an intimate dinner at your house, a rosé brunch in the park, dinner and a bonfire at the beach, or a serendipitous excursion to your favorite pop-up in the Mission, every idea you share is a chance for a traveler to belong in San Francisco.”

Experiences have actually been live in the form of a test since May 2014, but the December 1 note seems to imply that this is when a more formal ‘on’ switch may get flipped.

Turning back to the Experience Card, the home page invites users to “Spend like a New Yorker – easily and securely.” While the card comes preloaded with $1,000, you only get charged for what is spent on the card, and only after the trip is finished — presumably using the payment details that Airbnb already holds for you.

The card itself is free to obtain, but there are limits. Airbnb notes in its FAQs that while you can use the card for purchases anywhere MasterCard is accepted, it cannot be used for car rentals, recurring expenses like phone bills, online gambling, hotel spend (!), cash withdrawal at an ATM or cash back at the register, or at Automated Fuel Dispensers at gasoline stations.

Moves to add yet more services to Airbnb would be in line with the company’s bigger strategy.

For a while now, Airbnb — which reportedly raised $1.5 billion on a $25.5 billion valuation in June of this year — has been looking for ways of expanding the experience on its platform beyond the initial act of looking for and booking accommodation.

Other efforts have included Neighborhoods, which are hyperlocal travel guides; and Local Lounges, which enlist local cafes and other venues to “welcome” visitors into neighborhoods and provide information to them.

The Experience Card is a way for Airbnb to close that loop. Now Airbnb not only points you to places to go, but it helps you spend money while you are there.

MasterCard is not the only payment company working with Airbnb — the company also announced a tie-up with American Express at the beginning of November that will let AmEx account holders sign up to Airbnb using their username and password, and then use AmEx’s instant checkout to make bookings and spend Membership Rewards. Airbnb also offers gift cards as a way of virtualising the payment experience for users and to expand money spent on its platform

The Experience Card could help Airbnb improve its own margins on users.

For those who are travelling in the same country where they live, the card could prove useful as another line of credit for your trip. For those travelling to the U.S. from abroad, this could prove to be an attractive alternative to using their own from-home payment cards. (What is less clear is whether Airbnb would charge its own exchange fee, or what rate it would use, when it deducts what you’ve spent in your local currency.)

The Experience Card and its rewards program could also help users simply feel more tied to the Airbnb experience and feel like they are getting a bigger bang for their buck.

Expedia’s acquisition of HomeAway is one signal for why Airbnb needs to up its game on that front: Expedia users will be able to rent their traditional hotel alternatives, and book their flights, cars and find deals on things to do, all in one place.

There may be more services developed down the line: Airbnb in September acquired and shut down multi-city planning app Vamo, and while it did not buy activity concierge site Sosh, it clearly has an interest in going beyond accommodation and into accommodating activities on its platform.

Updated with more detail.