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Gift Card or Discount: Is Liftopia the Only One Getting it Right?

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I sometimes feel I do too much critiquing and too little suggesting. Like, somehow, I’m the 400 pound, mullet-sporting guy on his 3rd beer at the baseball game yelling at the 2nd baseman to hustle. So, every once in a while on a Wednesday I’ll try to balance the scales a bit and put my own ideas up for display, analysis, and critique. (view all ‘WID’ posts).

Lift ticket distribution is a common topic in the industry and for good reason. It’s Liftopia’s mantra that old channels are hurting revenues while a targeted, date-specific approach can lead to significant advanced purchases. It’s a smart funnel that is proving to be a successful one. Instead of focusing on that trend, I’m going to piggyback on a marketing strategy Liftopia uses to drive people into that funnel which I think we can all learn from.

Something I’ve seen a few times recently is what Vail calls “buddy passes” or SWAF (ski with a friend) tickets.

The basic idea is this: buy a season pass and get vouchers that friends can use to buy tickets at a discounted price.

The passholder can buy a pass but also give non-passholder friends a chance to get on the hill with him/her. A win for the passholder, a win for the friends, a win for the resort because, in theory, more people will come skiing that otherwise would not have come.

Back to San Fran
I think the idea for buddy passes is awesome but I wonder if there’s not a way to get more people to actually use those passes. For this idea, I take another cue from Liftopia. See that picture at the top of the post? That’s from the Liftopia season kick-off party. The table at the entrance had stacks and stacks and stacks of $5 gift cards.

This strategy, in my mind, is incredibly smart. I’m not sure if the $5 comes out of the ticket price as a whole or if it comes straight out of Liftopia’s commission on each sale, but either way Liftopia and the resorts make money. For many tickets, that $5 is less than Liftopia’s take, so as long as the user of the card wasn’t planning on buying a pass already, they’re making more money because skiers can only use one card per purchase.

Liftopia could just as easy hand out 5-10% off coupons that would be just as valuable, but I don’t think the redemption rate would be anywhere near the gift cards. These cards feel like money, are harder to throw away, and don’t carry the stigma coupons or discounts sometimes do.

Buddy Gift-Cards
What I’d do if I were Vail Resorts or any other mountain using some sort of “buddy pass”, is include lift ticket gift cards with a season pass purchase instead of buddy passes. I don’t know about you, but I’d feel much cooler giving a friend a gift card (money) than a coupon (even if it is digital).

There’s no way to know if this would increase the use/redemption rate without giving it a try, but I can’t help but think that Liftopia got this one right. There’s a strange stereotype around coupons/discounts that prevents people from using them at the grocery store even if they want to save the money. So maybe, just maybe, offering the same discount but in a different form will change the perspective enough to get more people to use them more often.



  • Nice article – The real dilema is tracking the # of guests that get the discount (that would have purchased from you without the discount) – versus those that are exposed for the 1st-time to your facility as a result of the offer. Smaller regional weekend and day trip areas are IMO much more susceptable to having existing customers gain access to the deal (costing the resort/Ski Area revenue) than destination areas.
    Any ideas on how to track this; and what ratios of existing customer redemptions vs new customer exposure makes these types of offers valid?

    • Evan

      Great question Matt! We built an infrastructure internally to limit cards to one redemption per customer and be able to track each individual redemption to an existing email in our database as well as to a batch of cards used at various promotions. So we'll know which customers used a card from a single batch, while protecting against someone grabbing a stack of cards to use for themselves. You are thinking about it all the right way though!

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