In a Nutshell: Today’s business travelers often use frequent flyer miles to purchase everything from additional flights to gadgets and vacations. But until the Miles app arrived in 2019, nothing worked in the same way for ground travelers. Miles partners with hundreds of sought-after brands to automatically reward many popular forms of ground transportation, much like a credit card rewards program earns users benefits for getting from point A to point B. It also offers bonus miles for eco-friendly transportation choices, including public transit, ride-hailing, carpooling, biking, and walking.
The rise of ride-hailing services and electric and driverless vehicles are starting to impact automobile ownership. Technology has now made it possible for consumers of ground transportation to view mobility as a set of services they can access regardless of whether they own a car.
Meanwhile, cities continue to encourage residents to choose mass transit and even human-powered alternatives, including biking and walking, as a way to address congestion, pollution, and public health concerns.
As a VP in the financial industry in charge of researching autos and shared mobility, Paresh Jain explored these trends with Jigar Shah, a product manager and tech lead, looking for a startup opportunity.
The solution was Miles, which is similar to a credit card rewards program for ground travelers. The duo, along with Parin Shah, co-founded the company, with Jigar Shah also serving as its CEO. Miles automatically rewards users no matter how they get around, and when users choose more eco-friendly transportation options, they earn even more.
Miles teams with hundreds of brand partners to offer exclusive rewards to its hundreds of thousands of users.
The company occupies a niche where engagement intersects with frequent commutes, unlike other miles programs.
“We started seeing a growing trend in ground travel being defined in terms of miles traveled, similar to the airline world.,” Jain said. “That showed us what we could be doing with Miles.”
App Detects Travel Modes Based on Phone Location Data
Miles debuted in early 2019 and grew quickly because it offers the simplicity of a unified platform.
“Unlike platforms that just reward you for taking transits or walking and running, nobody was truly bringing it together,” Jain said. “Users don’t want to be handling five or six different apps to manage their rewards.”
What’s more, Miles does it all automatically, using a person’s phone location data to detect different travel forms. In fact, after quickly and easily registering to use the app, users don’t need to open the app until they elect to redeem miles.
“That’s the most elegant part of our solution,” Jain said.
Given that typical ground travelers take multiple trips a day, it would have been a pain point to require users to go in and update the platform every time they take a short walk.
In the same way credit rewards programs differentiate between types of spending, Miles offers significantly greater rewards for biking and walking — with the added benefit of helping the planet.
When the app detects a cycling journey, the user receives 5x miles, and when the app detects running or walking, the rewards jump to 10x.
“In the world of carrots and sticks, we see ourselves as a carrot — we’re incentivizing greener transportation,” Jain said. “We make sure that the more effort you put into your journey, the more miles you get out of it.”
Green bonus miles not only resonate with Miles users, but they also help urban planners realize their sustainability and wellness goals.
“For cities, any incremental shift is a positive,” Jain said.
Connect with Services and Friends for Additional Rewards
Miles also accurately reports trips and correctly allocates bonus miles beyond location data.
To distinguish between private car trips and bus and train travel, for example, the app taps into publicly available transit scheduling and route data. It matches the data with trips recorded in Miles. Bus and train travel, for instance, earns users 3x miles. The system is especially popular in the U.S. and viable in many other parts of the world.
Miles also includes an elegant solution for carpooling trips, which reward 2x miles. When carpool co-passengers run Miles together, the app rewards everyone at the 2x rate. Cities and transit agencies partnering with Miles may provide additional rewards for carpooling.
Ride-hailing with services, including Uber, also pays 2x miles. Users connect their ride-hailing accounts with Miles to match up those trips and earn their bonuses. If friends use Miles to share a ride, they also earn the carpooling bonus.
And on the rare occasion that Miles does misallocate a trip, there’s recourse — just a couple of taps allows users to provide feedback in the form of a mode change request.
“There’s a verification process, but the feedback itself improves our understanding of users,” Jain said. “The next time they take a trip, we have a better chance of getting it right.”
In addition, Miles lets users spend miles to participate in raffles, compete with one another in fitness challenges, and even donate miles to charitable causes. Just as credit rewards programs offer flexibility and personalization to drive engagement, these features keep users coming back for more.
“Our paramount objective is always to ensure a great user experience,” Jain said.
Redeem Rewards for Exclusive Brand Experiences, Products, and Services
User engagement keeps both individuals and brands coming back to Miles.
“Although we do have certain governance criteria on our end, we’ve come to a point with our users where we can partner with almost any consumer brand,” Jain said.
Global names, including Garmin, Reebok, and Doordash, leverage Miles as an additional engagement channel, while startups often come to the platform for its efficiency. Either way, getting involved with Miles is a seamless plug and play experience for its partners; they just need to provide an exclusive offer.
“We can help almost any brand achieve its marketing objectives, but if our users are spending their miles on something, it should be something that’s unique to our platform,” Jain said.
The resulting user acquisition costs can be as much as 90% lower than acquisition costs with broader channels, Jain said.
“Nothing is better for us than when both our users and partners win,” he said. “The decision to spend miles implies a high degree of user interest and commitment in a brand, and the facts bear that out. Conversion numbers for our brand partners are significantly higher than what they would get on other platforms.”
And users earn those rewards — much like the credit card travel miles they earn — for something they do every day.
More features are on the horizon as raffles and donation campaigns continue to resonate with users, and more consumer behavioral data is compiled in the app.
“Our high-intent users also lead to better retention for our partners,” Jain said. “Ours is truly a discovery platform, not a deal platform. We don’t look at a partner as somebody who’s providing an offer. We work with our partners to position them in the best way possible.”