The Singaporean-Chinese air miles company rewarding Hong Kong travellers for meals

  • After launching in mainland China and Singapore, Mileslife arrived in Hong Kong in August
  • But it has not signed up the city’s biggest carrier
PUBLISHED : Monday, 24 December, 2018, 6:00pm
UPDATED : Monday, 24 December, 2018, 6:00pm

Many top airlines have signed up with a Singaporean-Chinese start-up that lets frequent travellers and shoppers earn air miles through everyday spending.

Mileslife arrived in Hong Kong in August, after launching in Singapore last year and mainland China before that. The company’s mobile app connects restaurants to diners, who spend and collect airline points for eating out.

And paying for restaurant meals through the app is just the start, Troy Liu, the company’s mainland China-born CEO, said.

“There is a lot daily touch points we haven’t reached,” he said, speaking of the potential growth for the business.

To start, the company added a health aspect, giving users miles for walking a minimum of 5,000 steps a day. In future, it aims to give points for going to the gym or yoga classes, as it works to increase the number of transactions made through the app.

Liu, aged 35, a self-described frequent flier of almost two decades, regularly flew around the world earning and spending air miles cheaply, before starting Mileslife with partners in 2016, later moving its main functions to Singapore.

The app has unlocked new methods of earning miles at restaurants that were previously not available or possible, said airline loyalty expert Mark Ross-Smith, who ran Malaysia Airlines’ frequent flier business until earlier this year.

In further explaining why the app may be popular with airlines, Liu said: “This platform was based on airline loyalty. It was built as a natural extension of the current loyalty programmes. In the long run I want to help the airlines acquire new members to continue to grow the industry.”

In Hong Kong, users can pay for meals on the app at 600 restaurants so far. In Singapore, that stands at 800 and is 1,800 in mainland China.

“[The merchants] are a very small percentage of the daily touching points where consumers spend. Just for Hong Kong, in future there will be different categories [of spending] to add, as we continue to grow the restaurants, too. And there is potential for us to tap into groceries and retail,” Liu said.

More than a dozen leading airlines have partnered with Mileslife so far. Several more airlines from North America, Europe and the Asia-Pacific are expected to join by the first half of 2019.

How to get the best deals on your air miles from Hong Kong

The number of customers that flew with all the airlines teamed up with the app so far reached 812 million over 2017 – highlighting the potential pool of untapped customers around the world. The airlines include British Airways, Singapore Airlines, Emirates and Qatar Airways.

They also include China’s four biggest carriers – Air China, China Southern, China Eastern and Hainan Airlines. Locally, Hong Kong Airlines is a participant.

Cathay Pacific Airways has declined to join the app. Its loyalty business, Asia Miles, offers a rival dining scheme, with some 240 partners in Hong Kong. Most of the merchants are high-end eateries and require diners to spend a minimum before being eligible to earn mileage.

Lacking the backing of Hong Kong’s biggest airline, Liu said, would not deter the company, as a number of signed-up carriers had strong customer bases in the city.

The partnership with dozens of airlines could also prompt consumers to think about which airline loyalty programme would get them free flights quickest. “Millions of people around the world will change their spending behaviour based on air miles earnings,” Ross-Smith said.