Miles is an app that tracks your every move in exchange for deals and discounts

Miles is an app that tracks your every move in exchange for deals and discounts

Frequent flyer programs are a frustrating paradox. As humans, we’re always on the hunt for a discount, but how often do most of us fly? Once every few months? Once a year? For the most part, we spend far more time traveling in a car or bus, on a bike, or on foot. To the right kind of mind, that sounds like an opportunity, which is why a new Silicon Valley startup called Miles has built a rewards program for all these other modes of transportation. The cost? You have to let Miles follow you everywhere.

Today, the company launched a free iOS app of the same name (Android version coming soon) that lets people rack up miles based on all the different modes of ground transportation they use to move around each day. Ostensibly, the greener the transportation method, the bigger a multiplier assigned to those miles: one mile traveled in a car nets you one reward mile, for example, while one mile in a ride-share is worth two, a mile of biking is worth five, and one mile of walking or running is worth 10. (One mile of flying is worth just 0.1 miles.)

Those miles can then be exchanged for deals with different brands, a number of which the company has lined up for launch. Rack up enough miles, and you can trade them in for rewards like $5 gift cards at Starbucks, Amazon, or Target, $42 off your first order from meal service Hello Fresh, or even a complimentary rental on Audi’s Silvercar service. (The rewards populate in a few different ways. The Starbucks reward, for example, spits out a barcode that you can scan at one of the company’s locations, while the Silvercar reward gives you a discount code that can be applied at checkout.) Other launch partners include Whole Foods, Canon, Bath & Body Works, and Cole Haan.

The obvious catch here is you have to give the Miles app constant access to your location. No matter how much you love slamming back cappuccinos or saving a few bucks at Target, that’s something to seriously consider, especially in the wake of seemingly constant data breaches at companies both small and large. (You can opt to only give access to your location when the app is open, though that means you have to open the app every time you travel.)

That said, Miles CEO Jigar Shah says that none of his company’s partners get access to any of this data. They instead only get insights in more aggregate and abstract terms. “Because people move from a to b, b to c, c to d, we can really understand the insights of how you’re interacting with the physical world. Once we understand that interaction, we can start making some insightful decisions, and then start making some predictions,” he says.

In other words, Miles knows where and when people move, how they got there, and maybe even why they moved in the first place. Armed with that information, the company’s “predictive marketing AI platform” can match users with appropriate deals. And as long as that process works, the partner businesses should still be happy even if they don’t get their hands on anything more specific, Shah says. (Though, he admits, some have asked.)

It’s less about targeting users than it is about targeting demand, he says. “Once you earn miles, and we understand some of this data, then we start predicting some of the near-future demand. Once we understand that, we share some of this aggregated information anonymously. Nothing of users’ data leaves the system,” Shah says. “Demand simply means ‘There are 14 people in Palo Alto who are going to drink coffee in the next four hours.’ And that’s the information that acts as a triggering point for Starbucks to make a reward.”

To better explain how this works, Shah says, imagine there are 50,000 Miles users. 10,000 of those might be within 0.3 miles of a Starbucks. Out of those users, Miles can figure out which ones are most likely to buy a coffee within the next hour based on the history of where and when those people have stopped at coffee shops in the past. From there, Miles can also tell which users are likely to go to Starbucks, which will go somewhere else, and which customers aren’t too picky.

Miles then lets Starbucks tailor different offers to those specific groups. Maybe a Dunkin Donuts loyalist sees a $5 Starbucks gift card show up in the app that’s redeemable for 1,500 miles, instead of the typical 3,000, and decides to break rank. The goal is to get deals in front of customers when they’re “most receptive,” Shah says. “We allow [businesses] to understand their own customers’ near future. What do they need in the next four hours, next four days, and next four weeks? We’re literally making predictions about what their customers need and when they need it.” But again, he stresses, through this whole process, Miles will serve as a middleman between the businesses and the customers when it comes to personal data. And, as the user, that’s the bet you’re making: that Miles can keep that dam from breaking.

The power of that information, even in aggregate and anonymized, is enough to have drawn big brands to the platform at launch. Miles is also working on deals with a number of cities as well, and it features a partnership with Contra Costa, California’s transportation authority. While cities don’t necessarily have shiny products they can discount, the Miles team will work with them to craft rewards from other business partners that can be unlocked based on how (and how much) people use certain modes of transportation.

Miles users will see this in the form of “challenges,” where rewards that typically cost a specific number of miles might now be accessible for, say, making five bike trips in one week or taking the bus to and from work instead of driving. It’s a way for cities to encourage greener transportation or even promote public transportation in places where ridership is low, Shah says.

All this comes together in the Miles app, which is slick and polished in a way most apps aren’t at launch. That’s because Miles has been running the whole service in closed beta for the last two years, according to Shah, with a few thousand users who’ve offered feedback. The result is something that looks like a cross between a fitness app, shopping app, and the rewards slice of a banking or airline app. There’s a Venmo-style feed that shows how other users are earning and redeeming their miles as well as statistics about how you’ve moved around.

It’s frankly the kind of app that could just about make you forget that Miles is watching wherever you go. But while the Big Brother aspect of Miles feels like something that could doom it from the start, humans are also total suckers for a good deal. If Miles can keep those deals coming, then the sky is probably the limit.

Miles users will see this in the form of “challenges,” where rewards that typically cost a specific number of miles might now be accessible for, say, making five bike trips in one week or taking the bus to and from work instead of driving. It’s a way for cities to encourage greener transportation or even promote public transportation in places where ridership is low, Shah says.

All this comes together in the Miles app, which is slick and polished in a way most apps aren’t at launch. That’s because Miles has been running the whole service in closed beta for the last two years, according to Shah, with a few thousand users who’ve offered feedback. The result is something that looks like a cross between a fitness app, shopping app, and the rewards slice of a banking or airline app. There’s a Venmo-style feed that shows how other users are earning and redeeming their miles as well as statistics about how you’ve moved around.

This article originally appeared on The Verge. Read the original here.

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John Singh
john@mit.com.au

John is the managing director of MIT Agency which is a premium digital agency focused on providing pre-eminent technology services to ambitious businesses across geographies and industries. MIT Agency’s core expertise includes the planning, development, management & marketing of businesses and digital products with world-class user experience, artificial intelligence and scalable architecture.

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