Travel booking sites are ubiquitous these days, all offering easy booking, claiming the best prices possible, etc. A lot of people use them, and usually end up with a favorite, or at least favored one. They advertise, and promise, a lot.
Little known in the Death Match Arena of travel booking sites, because they don’t advertise a lot, is Bonwi and to distinguish themselves from the all conquering giants in the market, they have carved out a niche in offering the most competitive rewards program.
Founders Michael Wargo and David Shaw, both veterans of digital travel, started Bonwi soon after selling their first rewards business, Destinations Rewards, to Deluxe Corp in 2014. They developed a proprietary method to deliver what seems to be better value than other sites’ rewards programs.
“We can deliver this value because of our software, which allows us to scan and show a retail price but make the booking via a wholesale channel,” says Shaw. “We have access to private rates with 50+ travel suppliers. Other sites make huge margins booking hotels, we give back most of that margin to the consumer in the form of the reward points. We hope to achieve better conversion and loyalty and referrals, which lowers operating and marketing costs, so we can afford to give away most of the profit.”
It’s free to join and you get 1500 rewards points at the start. You search for a hotel — all available ones appear down the side of the page, with photos, price per night, the usual, just like other booking sites. They show the total cost of a stay, with taxes and fees included, which is actually very helpful, and they don’t charge any service charges, or admin percentage or booking fees. They indicate how many reward points you will earn for each booking. Points, which can accumulate pretty quickly, can be used for hotel stays, airline reservations, car rentals or even gift cards. There is no limit on how many points you can use for air reservations — not always the case with other rewards programs, as you doubtless know. One short stay can earn a free night somewhere.
Their business model is basically rebating you for choosing them as your booking portal. If played right, and most travelers have become pretty savvy about their rewards programs, this can amount to a healthy discount on presumably what are already the best prices on offer.
And prices quoted come with a 110% guarantee – meaning if you book your hotel or car with them and you find it cheaper somewhere else, Bonwi will rebate you 110% of the difference in the price. Ultimately that’s not going to be a lot of money, but it means the client won’t lose out by booking with them.
The odd name came from “a URL search, which came up with bonwi.com!” says David. “It was cheap, and it rhymed with free.” They started playing with slogans such as ‘If you wanna fly free, you need to use bonwi’ and ‘when you book on bonwi, it’s easy to fly free’, before deciding, mercifully, on the shorter, alliterative, and they hope one day catchy, “Fly Free Fast & Easy.”
The t-shirts can’t be far behind.