The day after Uber declared its ambition to be “as reliable as running water, everywhere for everyone,” it took a big step toward mainstream ubiquity. The startup with the dizzying $17 billion valuation has opened its software platform to almost a dozen partner companies with mobile apps, including Starbucks (SBUX), United Airlines (UAL), and Hyatt Hotels (H).
That means that when you book a table for two using OpenTable (PCLN), you can also reserve a car to take you to the restaurant; you can use United’s app to find an Uber to or from the airport. An OpenTable spokeswoman, Tiffany Fox, calls the link to Uber “a value-add for customers” traveling to and from restaurants.
It’s also a value-add for Uber, which gets access to millions of ostensibly new customers, in a manner unique to the app-based car service. The traditional cab services that have been working so hard to defend themselves against the Uber incursion cannot do so online. Meanwhile, this is a classic marketing opportunity: Everyone who has ever bought anything online is by now used to secondary pitches at the point of checkout. While a decidedly old-school tactic, it may add an air of legitimacy and inevitability to Uber, which is pioneering an aspect of the “sharing economy” that has generated controversy not unlike the concerns Airbnb has encountered in many cities.
As further incentive, the new partnerships also come with a $30 discount for new Uber users. United said it would also award 1,000 frequent-flyer miles for Uber trips booked from its mobile app. Praveen Sharma, United’s vice president for loyalty, says the carrier’s link to Uber was designed to provide “new choices and convenience for our customers.”
OpenTable considered the Uber link “a natural fit,” Fox said in an e-mail. “We think of the dining experience in terms of the role we can play before, during, and after dining,” she said. As much as 10 percent of OpenTable reservations come from marketing relationships the company has with some 600 partners, such as Yahoo (YHOO), Yelp (YELP), Facebook (FB), and Zagat (GOOG), Fox said.
Neither OpenTable nor United would discuss the commercial aspects of the partnerships, including whether Uber was paying for referral traffic. TripAdvisor is receiving fees for sending potential customers to the ride service, the Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday.