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Orbitz taps mobile for instant rewards while traveling is making a significant play for a bigger role in its customers’ journeys beyond simply booking a flight or hotel, with mobile loyalty playing a crucial role in bringing this vision to fruition.

The new Orbitz Rewards program enables users to earn rewards at a higher rate for hotel bookings made from its mobile apps than booking through other channels. It is fully integrated with the Google Wallet loyalty feature for both Android and iOS and features unique functionality such as the ability to view hotels in search results with member’s rewards already applied.

“We are really looking at the nexus of mobile and loyalty and doing something unique with that for mobile users,” said Chris Brown, group vice president of mobile at Orbitz, Chicago.

“We are really looking for ways to reach out with mobile into the physical environment and use loyalty as a mechanism to interact with that environment during a trip,” he said.

“There are some great opportunities there because consumers need a lot of help along the way, but also have a lot of opportunity of enhancing their trip either through other hotel rooms or other rewards along the way.”

Zap that Bag Fee
Orbitz currently sees 30 percent of its hotel bookings come through mobile devices and anticipates that mobile could account for as much as 50 percent of bookings by next year.

With the rapid growth in how travelers are using mobile both to plan a trip and to support them throughout their journey, Orbitz spent the past two years developing a loyalty program that would help insert the company into its customers travel activities in a bigger way.

A beta test for the program began six months ago, and the soft launch took place on Oct. 17.

“Looking at where our strategic vision is with rewarding customers as well as with mobile, how can we find ways to make a loyalty program be its best through mobile,” Mr. Brown said.

“We have been thinking about innovative ways to bring that to bear through mobile,” he said.

“That is where you see these extra ways to earn options, things like Zap that Bag Fee integrated directly into the app as well as the toggle for reward pricing. That is just the beginning.”

One of the ways Orbitz is using the loyalty program to enhance its relationship with mobile users throughout their journey is with the new Zap that Bag Fee feature, which enables app users to click a photo of their checked baggage fee receipt and send it to Orbitz to earn $25 in bonus Orbucks through Nov. 30.

Since rewards can be instantly redeemed, users can apply these earning to a hotel trip on the current trip.

Rethinking hotel search
Orbitz Rewards members earn Orbucks when booking hotels, flights and vacation packages on the mobile apps or Web site that can be instantly redeemed for a hotel stay. One Orbuck equals one U.S. dollar.

Members earn 5 percent when booking through the Orbitz apps for iPhone, iPad and Android or 3 percent across all other booking channels. Members can also earn 1 percent on standalone flights and vacation packages.

Since it costs Orbitz less to acquire customers who download an app and come back to the app repeatedly, the company is passing some of the savings onto its app users.

Rewards are integrated into hotel search results, enabling users to see how much a hotel costs with earned Orbucks applied and how much it costs without.

“Most brands in the travel and hospitality sectors offer loyalty programs to their customers,” said Scott Robinson, senior director of loyalty solution and consulting at Maritz Loyalty Marketing.

“Given that the rewards and benefits offered are quite similar from program to program, the experience itself enabled by mobile in the case of Orbitz, that serves as one approach to more fully engaging with customers,” he said. 

Mobile bonuses
Orbitz Rewards includes other bonuses and incentives for customers booking on the brand’s mobile apps.

To support the launch, members will earn an additional 1 percent on flights booked on Orbitz mobile apps through Nov. 22.

Other bonus extras during this period include an extra $10 in Orbucks for booking a flight and an additional 15 percent off hotel prices.

Other features include the ability to stack promo codes and combine offers on top of Orbucks, earn both frequent flyer miles and credit card points and to earn $25 for referring a friend.

Members can also reach Star and SuperStar membership status, which delivers added travel perks, based on the number of nights they stay in a hotel booked through Orbitz.

The launch coincides with a major revamp of the Orbitz mobile apps for both iOS and Android.

Orbitz has relaunched its iPhone app and redesigned it for iOS 7 with dynamic imagery based on where a user a searches. The app also surfaces information about a current trip that a user might find useful

On Android, Orbitz has added Google Instant Buy as a payment option on its Android app.

Going forward, Orbitz plans to add PayPal as a payment option and to integrate the Android app with Google Plus.

“For us, it was all about enhancing that current trip that they are booking,” Mr. Brown said. “That is big for the loyalty program in general.

“A lot of the mobile travelers are booking their hotels on the go, and we want to be able to tap into that as well,” he said.

Final Take
Chantal Tode is associate editor on Mobile Commerce Daily, New York