What sets Netcentives (www.netcentives.com) apart from other incentive-based Internet marketers is its exclusive redemption partnerships with six major airlines. It launched in beta last November with deals from American Airlines, British Airways, Continental Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Northwest Airlines and US Airways, as well as National Car Rental System, Marriott Hotel & Resorts and Westin Hotels & Resorts.
Other sites that issue ClickPoints, which is Netcentive's point system, include Yahoo!, CNET's BuyDirect and GolfWeb; and in the next few weeks it will add Wells Fargo Bank, Cyberian Outpost, computer reseller site NECX, The Red Herring and Microsoft Networks' Plaza retail store.
However, the San Francisco-based start-up has delayed its launch, potentially losing valuable time building its brand. It has 40,000 registered users. Competitor Intellipost Corp.'s BonusMail went live a year ago and has 250,000 members.
Netcentives President-CEO West Shell III said during the last few months, the company tested the network and added partners.
He projected it will have 250,000 members by summer.
To help attract those members, it's launching a $4 million ad campaign via online, traditional media and direct marketing. To kick off the program, San Francisco's Highway One Communications last week launched a "Miles for Life" sweepstakes.
"People clearly understand the power of our currency -- what free travel means," Mr. Shell said, "and that it does drive consumer behavior."
A NETWORK TO DRIVE TRAFFIC
Unlike BonusMail and other programs, in which users earn points by reading and responding to e-mail promotions, Netcentives tries to drive repeat traffic to a network of sites with points. Those points can be swapped for frequent flier miles or credits at hotels and rental car companies. E-mail notifies members of promotions.
Aligning itself with key e-commerce players in profitable categories was key to Netcentives' launch strategy, Mr. West said, adding that it's close to signing partners in automotive, books and travel categories.
What Netcentives is doing right is tying into existing affinity programs instead of building its own database of consumers, said Evan Neufeld, senior analyst at Jupiter Communications.
"This is a vast, open new frontier; there's a lot of money to be made and there's room for multiple players," he said.