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Exploring the Integration of Travel Booking Portals by Banks

Profile image of post author Côme
Côme · February 2024

Why are many companies venturing into travel sales? What benefits do they gain, considering it is often a completely different line of business than they are used to? This naturally entails training new people and investing in technology to enable it, which may not make sense for many industries. So, for the companies that do pursue travel sales, how do they operate in this area?

Businesses such as banks, retailers, or specialized travel agencies sell flights, hotels, car rentals, or cruises through affiliate agreements with other travel sellers. Alternatively, they partner with legacy Global Distribution Systems (GDS) to integrate GDS technology into their own solution, either fully or in a hybrid manner. In both cases, this means partnering with large travel distributors that provide them with travel content to sell, such as hotels, flights, car rentals, cruises, etc. This effectively makes them a 3rd party seller and completely dependent on those travel distribution partners for pricing and technology.

This article explores the reasons behind this strategy, with a particular focus on banks. We discuss examples of banks around the world that have incorporated travel booking into their client service portfolio in various ways.

Partnerships with travel booking platforms can occur in a co-branded or white-labeled format. In a co-branded setup, companies often link to a large travel merchant and earn a commission, openly declaring their partnership with a specific travel company. This usually takes the form of an affiliate agreement. However, it has limitations, such as a lack of integration and restricted access to travel content for end users. Still, the implementation is simple, and if the travel reseller's brand is well-known, they can leverage their brand awareness.

A white label offering refers to a company selling travel services under its own brand. This doesn't imply that they have agreements with millions of hotels or airlines. Instead, they most likely utilize third-party technology integrated into their system to sell that third party's travel content. The advantage of white labeling is the ability to transfer the trust they have built in their brand to their travel booking service, which increases the likelihood of customers using their travel booking service. Another key benefit is that a white label solution can be integrated and customised into their main application, such as a banking app or platform. This makes it easier to leverage the travel booking service as an upsell or cross-sell opportunity in other services or products already used by their customers.

For instance, a customer checking their credit card statement at a bank, might be notified of potential cash back rewards if they book travel through that bank. Conversely, a customer using the bank's white label travel booking portal might be offered an integrated "buy now pay later" or travel insurance product as an upsell.

White label travel portals enable companies to seamlessly incorporate their own travel distribution technology into their current services. A travel portal is a platform offering booking services for airline tickets, hotels, car rentals, and other travel-related services. These portals are supported by robust search engines and offer direct access to a plethora of travel content. A prime example of this is the Duffel API, which provides access to travel content from numerous sources, ensuring the best price, terms, and conditions.

Some examples of banks that offer a travel booking portal

Citi bank in the US has a travel portal. Citi Travel is a travel booking portal that gives eligible Citi card members access to book flights, hotels, rental cars, and attractions at competitive prices, along with 24/7 customer support. Additionally, when their customers book through the Citi Travel portal using ThankYou® rewards cards, they can earn ThankYou® points on their travel spending which can then be redeemed to be used on your next journey. It is a way for Citi bank to generate additional revenue streams whilst at the same time create customer stickiness. Their travel portal is powered by Agoda’s subsidiary Rocket Travel. This is clearly highlighted therefore it is more of a co-branded solution and not a white label travel portal.

Another American bank that jumped into travel resale space is Capital One, by introducing Capital One Travel, a new travel booking experience that delivers smart features not found anywhere else in the credit card industry, including predictive pricing models, free price drop protection on flights, and the option to freeze a flight price for up to 14 days, so customers can come back and book it later. At introduction of this travel portal Capital One also introduced its new class of “travel” credit card Venture X that has a miles award program to use towards future bookings on their travel portal and they opened its first Capital One Airport lounge. This all points towards that Capital One means serious business when entering the travel resell business. Who can blame them in a North American travel market that is worth almost $100 billion annually. They built this travel portal by partnering with Hopper, a travel agency that shares its travel content through the travel portal with Capital One bank. Capital One is also one of Hopper’s investors, so no surprise there.

American bank, SoFi offers an affiliate solution through Expedia’s travel content. This is an embedded 3rd party travel portal solution and they offer cash back when booked with a Sofi credit card. The benefits are cash back and special offers for Sofi clients. The downside is that the offered prices and travel content are limited to Expedia’s offering, which might not be the right offering for all destinations or travel needs.

When looking at Europe, challenger bank Revolut started offering accommodations through their stays & experiences product. Offering 1.9 million accommodations and the ability to earn up to 10% cashback. For the moment their offering is limited to accommodations and doesn’t include, flights or car rentals. It is heavily promoted in combination with their premium account product which offers all kinds of perks when it comes to travelling, like travel insurance and free cash withdrawals abroad. It is also a good leeway into their buy now pay later credit offering. All this allows them to up and cross-sell multiple other banking products when selling travel, a nice extra revenue stream.

Especially in North America, credit and loyalty cards are highly prevalent. The associated reward systems motivate users to remain loyal to their credit card provider, as well as to specific hotel chains or airline alliances. Therefore, if North American banks want to persuade their customers to book travel through them, they must cover all loyalty and rewards, that their current providers are offering them. Moreover, to convince customers to book travel using a credit card issued by their bank and earn interchange on the travel booking transaction, they need to at least match their competitors' reward, interest rate, and balance transfer offerings.

Contrarily, in Europe, most people use debit cards, including for travel, this is not exactly the same in every market as an overall indication this is correct. Thus, a bank integrating a travel booking portal is likely aware that bookings made by their customers through the portal will be done using their cards, given the European consumer is more likely to switch. Given the prevalence of low-cost airlines and various travel methods, European travellers are less attached to specific hotel chains or airline loyalty programs. We do need to repeat this varies quite a lot from country to country.

In conclusion, the integration of travel booking portals by banks and other companies opens up new revenue streams and enhances customer loyalty. Whether through co-branded or white-label solutions, these portals allow businesses to offer travel services under their brand, leveraging their existing customer base and trust. By partnering with travel distributors and utilising third-party technology, companies can provide a wide range of travel content and services to their customers. This integration not only generates additional revenue but also creates opportunities for upselling and cross-selling other products or services. As the travel industry continues to evolve, these portals enable companies to adapt and cater to the changing needs and preferences of the traveler. By incorporating travel booking into their services, banks and other companies can enhance the overall customer experience and strengthen their competitive position in the market.

Want to learn how your business can embed a white label travel booking portal?

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