Rocketmiles is an online hotel booking site that launched April 8, 2013 where members can make reservations at selected hotels in top business travel cities and earn a minimum of 500 miles or points per night. The site recently expanded and now includes popular destinations such as Paris, London and Tokyo and international airline partners Air France/KLM and Etihad Airways. Guests can also earn miles or points with Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Hawaiian Airlines, JetBlue Airways, United Airlines, US Airways and Virgin America. We spoke with Jay Hoffmann, CEO/Cofounder at Rocketmiles.InsideFlyer
How did you come up with the idea for Rocketmiles?
In some ways I’ve been thinking about this idea for my whole life. I was one of those road warriors for my first job out of college. I was living in Boston and was on the road four or five days a week racking up lots of miles and points. I grew up in the Midwest and hadn’t been to a lot of places so I used all of the miles I’d accumulated from those first couple of years to take a trip to Nepal to hike the Annapurna Circuit. Later on I was responsible for the partnership program at MileagePlus and more recently, I was at Groupon responsible for building new businesses where we developed a curated, simplified e-commerce experience. All three of those things are combining now to create Rocketmiles.
What type of traveler is Rocketmiles targeting?
We built the product with the business traveler in mind. More specifically, the unmanaged business traveler—people who book their own hotels and then expense it. Right now you pay the same price as you would pay if you were going to book it on Orbitz or Expedia or another online travel agency. When you launch a product, it’s hard to predict how people are going to use it. We’ve had plenty of people who have been using Rocketmiles also for leisure travel. And we’ve had a lot of people who have been using Rocketmiles who also have managed business programs, meaning that their company has a business travel agency that they use. But people have been convincing their travel manager or CFO that they can get a much better deal on Rocketmiles and also help save for their next vacation.
Do you plan to expand the list of hotels or keep it around 1,000?
Everything we do is based on the feedback we get from our customers. For example, our customers told us that they needed a different type of receipt to use for business travel so we updated it in that way. All of the geographic expansion we’ve done has been based on direct feedback from customers. A lot of people have told us that that love earning miles for hotel bookings in places like Denver and San Francisco and San Diego but they also travel internationally so we’ve built out a lot of our international offerings based on where people have told us they are traveling. We’ve also done it based on some of our partner preferences. For example, when we go live with a partner like Etihad, obviously it’s important to have great hotels in the Middle East. We’ve lined up and prioritized those geographies based on direct feedback from our customers and partners.
Why would someone choose to book a hotel through Rocketmiles instead of going directly to the hotel’s website?
Typically the type of customer that books on Rocketmiles is going to be someone who has some flexibility about where they stay. And if you know there is a very specific hotel that you like going to or you want to be in a very specific location, there are many good websites that allow you to do that. Kayak, Hipmunk and Room 77 are all great websites where you can see every single option that’s out there. Rocketmiles is geared more toward someone who is willing to trade off that variety for the chance to earn a ton of miles. It’s an opportunity for them to be able to save miles for their next vacation more quickly.
Will elite members still receive their hotel elite benefits and earn toward elite status when booking through Rocketmiles?
That varies from hotel to hotel. In some cases people will be able to earn credit toward elite status and in other cases they won’t be. It just varies. Our site is geared more toward people who want to accumulate a bunch of miles and care a little bit more about that than they care about hotel elite status.
How are the amounts of miles/points members earn for hotel stays calculated and how often do the earn rates change?
They change on every single search. With every search that you do you might get a different set of hotel results that’s a function of the public price that’s out there for the hotel. And it’s a function of the kind of inventory we can get from our hotel supply partners. For example, if there’s a conference in Chicago and there aren’t a lot of hotels available, you’re not likely to see really rich mileage offers for that date or at those properties. On the other hand, if there are a bunch of rooms that might otherwise go unsold, that’s a great opportunity for us to generate demand on behalf of our hotel supply partners. So it really varies a lot from day to day and search to search. Essentially what we are doing is we’re taking a lot of the margin or discount that might be available on a site like Hotwire or Priceline and converting that into really rich mileage offers and delivering to the hotel a premium traveler.