It takes quite a bit jet-setting before enough air miles can be accrued to redeem something really worthwhile — say, an upgrade to first class seat or a ticket to Bali. On my last round trip flight from Singapore to Las Vegas on United Airlines, I earned a total of 8,035 air miles.

Based on the United Airlines website, I would need to take another round trip to Las Vegas and another short-distance flight if I wanted to redeem a one-way ticket from Singapore to a South Asian country on the one-way saver award — which requires 17,500 air miles.

Did I mention that I have until June next year to use my air miles before they expire? [Update: I’ve just been told that United Airlines has a rolling 18 months expiration policy. With any 1 mile accumulated anywhere, the 18 months expiration will be renewed automatically]

Unless one goes on frequent business trips, most travellers would be hard-pressed to find the free time to take enough trips to earn the benefits. So what most travellers do to increase their collection while on land is use credit cards that award them air miles with each transaction.

Earn miles through an app

But even with credit cards, earning air miles can still be quite a long, burdensome and costly affair.

Troy Liu, Founder and CEO of Mileslife, wants to democratise this process with its eponymous e-commerce app. In a nutshell, it allows users to earn air miles if they transact with merchants on the platform.

Liu, who is an avid traveller, has been devotedly collecting air miles since 2001. He says he was attracted to the benefits and started “finding every possible way to do it”. To date, he has flown to over 100 countries (that is a lot of air miles).

“There was only one problem – collecting miles from flying was just not fast enough for me. In 2007, I started blogging about miles and points, to share my tips with people on how to travel better,” he says in an interview with e27.

His passion for racking up air miles and travelling eventually turned into a full-time career. In 2013, he served as a consultant to airlines and hotel chains, advising them on their loyalty and marketing programmes.

Then one day, Liu was cruising around Guinea-Bissau, West Africa, searching for a place to spend the night, when the idea for Mileslife first struck him. He began conceptualising a platform that could help travellers find accommodation and restaurants and at the same time earn air miles at these places.

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In 2016, Liu turned his blueprint into a functioning product and launched it in China, then to Singapore.

There are currently about 2,000 merchants on Mileslife spread across Shanghai and Beijing and five other cities in China, and close to 100 in Singapore. They include restaurants, theme parks, hotels and spas. Liu says he plans to onboard at least 200 Singapore F&B merchants by September this year.

The business model

Since Mileslife’s business model involves bringing together three different (though not mutually exclusive) parties — the airlines, merchants and users — meeting the requirements of all of them was a delicate balancing act at first.

Rolling out the service in China and Singapore also presented a unique set of challenges.

“In China, we cater to a very niche population who are ‘hardcore’ miles collectors,” says Liu. “the idea of collecting miles is still nascent in China.”

“On the other hand, Singaporeans are already very familiar with the concept of miles accrual, with most major credit cards offering some sort of tie-up. In Singapore, it involved more educating on our platform and how we help our users earn miles faster,” he adds.

Part of Mileslife marketing message focusses on its “double dipping” feature. Essentially, this means that if users make purchases on the Mileslife app with a credit card that offers air miles, they stand to earn not only air miles from the app, but also air miles from the credit card.

Mileslife works on the master merchant concept, meaning that all transactions are carried out directly on the platform. Currently, it accepts Visa, MasterCard, and with the AMEX payment option coming at the end of the month.

Liu says he also working with some banks and the airline partners to give Mileslife’s users more offers and deals in the coming months.

“The merchants and airlines recognise the win-win situation they will achieve by partnering with us. For merchants, it helps increases the footfall to their outlets. For our airline partners, this partnership helps them to increase the number of touchpoints that have to engage with their customers beyond the occasions when they are looking to book a flight,” says Liu.

Image Credit: Mileslife