WebMiles reserves $15 million to back inaugural campaign

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"Any airline. Any flight. Any time." That's the promise Salt Lake City-based WebMiles makes to consumers in its first marketing campaign that launches today.

The latest entrant in the online loyalty program market offers -- like the bulk of competitors -- airline miles to consumers for participating in the program and buying products through its partners.

But unlike other programs, airline travel is all that WebMiles gives as a reward, whether it's $100 off a ticket to Dublin on Aer Lingus or a cross-country flight over Christmas on United Airlines.

"Travel is such a great motivator," said Jennifer Case, VP-marketing at WebMiles. "People are more motivated to earn miles than cash-in points for a T-shirt."

Because WebMiles tickets are purchased via a travel agency, Maritz Travel Co. in Fenton, Mo., and not directly through the airline using frequent-flyer miles, the company has none of the typical requirements that limit seat availability, block travel during the holidays and sometimes require a Saturday stay.

While members can redeem points for discounts on travel at any time, the company requires members redeeming points for free travel to make their requests at least 14 days in advance.


WebMiles plays up the simplicity of its program and the ability for travelers to fly whenever necessary in its $15 million ad campaign from GMO/Hill, Holliday, San Francisco.

Using a fictional company named Rent-A-Relative, WebMiles' TV spot shows a blond man who arrives at a reunion in place of a member of the Japanese family who was unable to use his frequent-flyer miles.

WebMiles has even launched a spoof Web site for Rent-A-Relative, rentarelative.com, to further promote WebMiles and humorously discuss the frustration of restrictive mileage programs.

WebMiles is spending much of its $34 million in second-round venture funding to build its brand. TV spots, which will air on network, cable and spot markets, start today. They also will air on NBC under a deal in which the broadcaster invested $7 million in WebMiles. That deal included cash as well as air time.

Print ads will run in consumer publications such as Newsweek and Travel & Leisure as well as newspapers such as USA Today and The Wall Street Journal. Outdoor ads will be featured on billboards, buses and taxi tops.


The brand-building campaign precedes the launch of the company's branded credit card that will allow WebMiles members to earn a point for each dollar they spend.

While the first portion of the branding campaign targets consumers who are already frequent flyers, WebMiles this fall will focus on the ability to earn travel discounts more quickly than with other programs.

Members can receive $100 off an airline ticket with just 8,000 miles compared with the 20,000 to 25,000 miles for a free ticket often required by airline programs. And members of frequent-flyer programs can still earn miles for their flight using WebMiles tickets.

"Miles are pervasive. You can earn them on everything down to a box of cereal," Ms. Case said. "But only 15% of people are involved in a frequent-flyer program. This will really expand the marketing opportunity to people who haven't been involved in the past."

WebMiles, which launched in January, has 59 online marketers affiliated with the program. The company expects to announce its first offline deals with a rental car company and a grocery store chain later this month.

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