PAYMENT METHOD DECISION ENGINE
A computerized system and method that enables identifying the best payment currency for a product or service is disclosed. Payment currencies include cash, reward programs and the unit or currency in which reward programs are denominated, and combinations thereof. A single product search request initiates searches of multiple payment currencies. Availability, discounts, prices, comparable costs, net values and relative values are determined and/or calculated per each payment currency. Comparable cost, relative value, or other criteria, may be used to determine the best payment method, that is, the lowest cost in a common currency, such as cash. Determination of the best payment currency is accomplished in “real-time” and has an advantage of leveraging quantitative and qualitative analysis in its determination. In addition, the search may be personalized by adding information unique to each user.
The present application is a continuation of U.S. patent application Ser. No. 13/041,278, filed Mar. 4, 2011, now U.S. Pat. No. ______; application Ser. No. 13/041,278 is a non-provisional of U.S. Prov. Appl. 61/339,380, filed Mar. 4, 2010.FIELD
The present disclosure relates to the field of reward programs, and more particularly to apparatus, systems, and methods for comparison of offers.BACKGROUND
In today's competitive world, sellers of goods and services seek to take advantage of many marketing opportunities to increase their sales, advance their market share, and achieve greater profitability. These results should be achieved without cutting prices and without appearing to be a “discounter” or seller of distressed products. Thus, over the past fifty years, new types of incentives have appeared in the form of reward programs or rewards programs. These programs offer incentives to buyers to purchase the products or services offered, without lowering prices and without discounting the merchandise.
Examples of such programs are manifest. Some credit card companies offer cash back, the sum rebated depending on the user's purchases over a period of time. Other credit card companies offer alternative rewards in the form of miles, points, credits, or other currency units, based on the credit card holder's use of the card. Hotel chains offer points, often for free lodging or other incentive, based on the user's purchases. Airlines offer frequent flyer miles based on the trips purchased and flown by the traveler. One unique aspect of some of these programs is that the incentive or benefit generally accrues to the traveler, rather than to the person or company purchasing the product or service, e.g., the user's employer. The user thus has an incentive to purchase products or services from selected providers because of the benefits provided in exchange for the accrued frequent flyer miles, credit card points, or other reward program currency units.
One provider typically cannot meet all of the user's needs or desires in a given category of goods or services. Therefore a typical user may participate in several such plans, such as two or more airlines that fly to different locations, two or more major credit cards that are accepted in different establishments, two hotel chains with different locations, and so forth. It is difficult to keep track of one's points, miles or other “earnings” under a plurality of such plans. Adding to the complexity is that merchants and providers may have “partners,” who honor each other's rewards. Thus, an airline may accept credit card points or hotel credits, while hotels may accept credit card points, and so forth.
A user wishing to redeem accumulated points, miles or credits must search carefully and diligently for opportunities to redeem the points, even if he or she goes only to the merchant or provider of the goods or services. The user will be diligent because these credits are literally equivalent to his or her cash. The user also has to be diligent because there are many rules that apply to these redemptions that further complicate actually determining the availability and prices. The user wishes to make the best possible use of the points and to get the lowest price for the purchase he or she wishes to make. Prices at the merchants, however, are usually quoted only in cash, with searching required to find the equivalent price in frequent flier miles, credit card points, and the like.
This information may also take the form of prices for other goods and services in these alternate currencies. While such information is available, is it not conveniently available without a great many searches, often to several vendors if one is determined to get reasonable value for the points of miles. What is needed is a way to gather information from many merchants and providers on the prices they offer and the values they provide for these alternate currencies.SUMMARY
The exemplary methods and systems disclosed herein include a computerized comparison shopping engine that presents to users the best offers in terms of lower price, lower cost, and higher value and enables users to compare offers that may be in one of multiple, distinct payment currencies. The currencies may include various elements and combinations of cash or credit card payments, redemption of reward program miles, points, credits, or other units, transfer of reward program units, upgrades, and the like. In various embodiments the disclosure further relates to systems and methods for determining availability, lowest prices, comparable costs, relative values, other relevant analyses, and facilitating or executing a purchase of a product or service via any one of multiple payment methods, including forms of “currency” such as foreign currency, domestic currency, real currency, virtual currency, cash, checks, wire transfers, credit, debit, miles, points, credits, certificates, gift cards, commitments to undertake specific actions, and other potential payment methods and currencies as disclosed throughout this disclosure or as understood by one of ordinary skill in the art.
One embodiment is computerized method of calculating a price. The method includes steps of conducting a computerized search for prices for a product or service for a user, receiving a first price in a first currency and at least one second price in a rewards currency for the product or service, and then converting the at least one second price in a rewards currency to an equivalent cash price, the step of converting based on at least one of estimated usage of the at least one rewards currency by the user or a group of users, actual usage of the at least one rewards currency by the user or a group of users, historical usage data of the at least one rewards currency by the user or a group of users, a desired future usage of the at least one rewards currency by the user or a group of users, historical usage data from at least one rewards program, a status or desire for status of the user, and potential usage of the at least one rewards program. The method also includes a step of calculating the price.
Another embodiment is a computerized method of calculating a value. The method includes steps of receiving at least one reward currency balance of a user and calculating a value of the at least one reward currency balance of the user in a common currency, wherein the step of calculating is based on at least one of historical usage data from the user, a desired future usage by the user, historical usage data from at least one rewards program, and a status of the user.
Another embodiment is also a computerized method of calculating a value. The method includes steps of receiving at least one non-cash reward balance of a user and calculating a value of the at least one non-cash reward balance of the user in a cash currency, wherein the step of calculating is based on at least one of historical usage data from the user, a desired future usage by the user, historical usage data from at least one rewards program, and a status of the user.
A further embodiment includes a system. The system includes a computer, a user database connected to the co a computer, a user database connected to the computer, the user database comprising information of a plurality of users concerning user preferences for products, services and at least one rewards program. The system also includes a rules database connected to the computer, the rules database comprising information of a plurality of merchants and providers of products and services, said rules database also comprising information for rewards programs of the plurality of merchants and providers. The system also includes a computer program embodied on a computer-readable memory accessible to the computer, the computer program comprising a search engine for searching for prices for the products and services, and a pricing engine for calculating prices, values and costs for the products and services, wherein the computer program is adapted to calculate a cash value for points, miles or other rewards of a rewards program.
Further features and advantages of the present disclosure can be ascertained from the following detailed description that is provided in connection with the drawings described below:
One aspect of the present disclosure enables a user to perform and receive an enhanced product search, review, analysis, and/or purchase experience. Embodiments may be implemented and run in a variety of manners. In one embodiment, a user submits an online (Internet-based) search request for a product, and in turn is presented with a number of alternatives, including the best available payment currency for that product. The currencies may include various elements and combinations of cash or credit card payments, redemption of reward program miles, points, credits, or other units, transfer of reward program units, upgrades, and the like.
In the present disclosure, the following words may have the associated meanings “Product” may include a product and/or service, which may include hard goods, virtual goods, digital media, software, software as a service, or a wide range of other types of goods or services. “Price” may include the consideration or terms of payment for a product or products, which may include upfront consideration, future consideration, lease payments, commitments to a period of service, cash, a promise to undertake an action, or the like, and may factor in an amount of currency (real or virtual), time periods of commitment (e.g., to a service contract), interest rates, discounts, and a wide range of other terms and conditions that potentially affect the value exchanged for a product or service. “Discounts” means any reduction in the value, price or consideration required by a merchant in exchange for providing a product, such as to provide an incentive for a consumer to purchase, lease, license, or otherwise obtain the product, and may take many forms, such as a price reduction, a discount, a volume discount, a reduction in a commitment period, a rebate, a promotion, a deal, a coupon, rewards points, credits, miles, or promises of future consideration of various types. A reward program or rewards program may include any reward, loyalty, incentive, points, miles or other program designed to reward consumers for undertaking actions, such as repeated purchases, undertaking requested activities, and the like, and may include, without limitation, credit card programs, virtual currency programs for digital media, airline points programs, cellular telephone programs, hotel and restaurant points programs, programs for merchants of food, and programs for any other kind of product. As used herein, AMEX, a trademark of the American Express Company, means AMERICAN EXPRESS, also a trademark of the American Express Company, or any other financial institution that handles credit card, debit card, or similar transactions, whether in real or virtual currency. A payment method may include any way for paying a price for a product or service, such as currency, money, specie, or reward program points, credits, miles or other incentive or unit. The terms “currency” and “payment method” may be used interchangeably. The terms “net value”, “true cost”, “net price” and “WisePrice” are used interchangeably.
A user may search for a product or service by signing in to a proprietary website and preparing a search request, as shown in
An exemplary system, as shown in
The system components in one embodiment, shown in
The Web Server includes a server-hosted port receiving a data packet that includes a request to search for a product. The Search Engine, in response to the request from the Web Server, initiates a search to determine at least one of availability, prices, costs, values, and other potential product parameters. The search engine may be programmed to query many data sources for multiple, distinct types of payment currencies. The Pricing Engine, in conjunction with the results from the Search Engine, determines the actual or final availability, price, cost, value and/or other potential parameter of the products. The pricing engine may perform these calculations in part by using a set of rules (Rules DB). The rules database (rules DB) includes facts, knowledge, insight, algorithms, heuristics, etc. that enables, among other things, availability, price, cost, value and/or other parameter determination, per payment method. The user database (user DB) stores user-associated information including username, password, external account information, and/or potentially other data fields for each user.
The Rules Database, in one embodiment, includes facts, knowledge, insight, algorithms, heuristics, etc. Examples include available booking codes & definitions, mileage accrual rules, redemption rules, upgrade rules, payment method taxes & fees, discount types & rules, reward program intrinsic values, activity-specific redemption values, reward program exchange ratios, partner/alliance exchange rules, personalization analysis, etc. These facts enable, among other things, availability and price determination, per payment currency. In addition, other databases and sources may be connected to the system through the internet. These may include, as shown in
A global distribution system (GDS), e.g., Amadeus, may show seat availability for a desired flight via the presence of certain booking codes. However, the GDS probably does not contain the prices of various payment methods for a seat on this flight. Using the booking code knowledge contained in The Rules Database, the price of each payment method can be determined. For example, the GDS may indicate that AMERICAN AIRLINES flight #10 has a seat available with booking code K, but no price will be listed for the “Use Miles/Points” payment currency. However, the Rules Database may state that the price for seats with booking code K on AMERICAN AIRLINES is, for example, 25,000 miles normal rate−5,000 miles discount+$100 co-pay+$25 baggage fees. This determination could be based on evaluating the booking code in concert with other parameters, such as the departure date, itinerary routing, eligible discounts, quantity of bags, and so forth, that inform the total price. Even if the price and other parameters are accessed directly from the airline, or travel provider, the published price is generally not indicative of the total price. Determination of that price may require consideration of additional criteria and personal decisions, such as the number of bags, purchase via agent or online, number of days prior to departure, coupon codes/promotions, and so forth.
The Rules Database also enables price calculations for derivative payment currencies. For example, prices for the “Transfer Miles/Points” payment currency are generally not listed by any source. The Rules Database contains rules that can be applied to “Use Miles/Points” prices in order to calculate the appropriate “Transfer Miles/Points” payment prices.
A single payment currency could be considered a primary and/or derivative payment currency, depending on the circumstances. For example, a price may have been collected for the “Use Miles/Points” payment currency for a particular airline. However, applying the Rules Database intelligence, it may be determined that via application of “Partner” or “Alliance” redemption rules, that the “Use Miles/Points” price is in fact cheaper for that same flight operated by the codeshare/partner airline. In this instance, the “Use Miles/Points” price for the partner airline is in essence a derivative payment currency.
Price prediction algorithms enable calculation of present and/or future prices. Collection of fare and award prices over historical periods combined with advanced analyses, e.g. linear regression, singular value decomposition, principle component analysis, enable price calculation for various scenarios. For example, assume the user entered a search for NYC to SFO for a date two months hence. Price prediction may be employed to determine the price for various payment methods for that specific itinerary. The system may use price prediction techniques to alert the user that other comparable or suitable itineraries have cheaper prices. The system may also inform the user to wait to purchase the preferred itinerary because the price is expected to decrease, or inform the user to now purchase the preferred itinerary because the price is expected to increase. The Rules Database may take on many different embodiments.
In one embodiment, the Rules database may include data from each participating vendor or merchant to allow for the particular rules or restrictions from the vendors. For example, a merchant may have different kinds of points or credits, such as supersaver miles or anytime miles. The merchant may require fewer supersaver or more anytime miles for a given trip, in which case the supersaver miles are clearly more valuable than the anytime miles. The relative value of the two may be clear simply from the given exchange premium, e.g., one type of miles may be worth twice as much as the other type. These different values may be used in calculation of net values or relative values. In addition, the miles may be appraised at different values depending on their use. For example, they may be given premium values for higher ticket items, such as upgrades to first class, upgrades to business class, for both domestic and international travel.
In a similar manner, valuations may be made for points contemplated to be transferred from the awarding vendor to a different vendor, if the rules of both allow transfers. The historical premiums awarded or discounts required may be placed into the rules databases and used, at least to predict what the value or cost of the contemplated good or service is. The rules may require minimum transfers and may allow only a certain number or maximum quantity of points to be transferred. In addition, transferees may add points or bonuses to the amount that users are requesting to transfer.
Points or credits from a rewards program participant may be valued in any number of ways by the participant. These valuations may be estimated by rules or programs stored in the rules database, or may be valued in other ways. User credits tracked in the user database may thus be kept track of or “valued” according to the rules of the rewards programs providers or participants. There may be different types of miles or points, and their quantity or value may depend on the status of the user, e.g., AMEX (MEMBERSHIP REWARDS) MR EXPRESS, MR and MR FIRST.
In order to calculate accurate results for users, extensive data analyses have been performed. A primary analysis that drives further analyses and calculations is that of determining the exchange or redemption value per reward program unit. The exchange value can be defined as the value that is received in return for using or redeeming that program unit. In general, the exchange value is stated in terms of a common monetary unit or currency, such as cents or dollars per point or points. For example, AMEX applies a standard 1 cent per point exchange value or ratio for several of its redemption categories. However, that value can vary widely based on the actual redemption (e.g., flight, hotel, car, merchandise, cash back, etc.) the user performs within a program and potentially even more so across programs. For AMEX, the system has examined all the possible redemption activities, the exchange values for those activities, the variances in exchange values based on any variables (e.g., price tiers, availability, redemption methods or mechanisms, redemption tiers, incremental value associated with any rewards earned during the redemption, discounts, etc.), and the frequency in which those redemption activities occur in order to calculate an average AMEX MR point exchange value. The same type of analysis is done across every program. Formulas or algorithms may be developed to calculate past or expected conversion values. Programs may also be indexed against each other. Furthermore, based upon a user's unique behavior and preferences, the relative weights, indices, and/or values are adjusted accordingly to calculate a unique exchange value per user.
Process Flow Chart
An exemplary process according to one aspect includes the steps shown in the Process Flow Chart in
One method of calculating a price, value or cost for a product or service is depicted in the flowchart of
The next step 35 in the method is to determine availability of the product or service and a plurality of total prices, including a lowest price, for each currency which may be used to pay for the particular product or service. At this point, the computer program which is used in one embodiment of this method, also searches for and collects any price discounts, incentives, or considerations available for each product or service, and for each currency which may be used to pay for the product or service. The process than calculates the value of each discount, incentive or consideration, for each currency which may be used to pay for the product or service, and integrates 36 them into the price which has been calculated for each currency. An example is a coupon or coupon code that reduces the miles price by 5000 miles.
Once these incentives and other discounts have been collected and integrated or calculated, additional data may be used to personalize 37 the prices or costs per additional information about the particular buyer or user searching for the particular product or service. An example of such data is a further benefit the user may receive, such as frequent flyer miles, which are awarded for cash payments for airline flights, and are awarded for certain other payment methods, such as allied rewards programs flight redemptions, e.g. AMERICAN EXPRESS PAY W/POINTS. However, frequent flyer miles are not awarded for other payment methods, e.g., frequent flyer miles are not awarded to customers redeeming the airline's own frequent flyer miles. The amount of miles awarded to certain customers may be based on their previous history with particular vendors or sellers of the product or service. For example, certain airlines award 100% of frequent flyer miles to most customers, but will award 125% to more favored customers, 175% to yet more favored customers, and 200, 225, 250, and 275% to other classes of more favored customers. These distinctions may be made on the basis of the passenger's or customer's reward program status (e.g., silver, gold, platinum or diamond class), perhaps as a result of his or her historical purchases from this or another vendor. The incentive for a given purchase may also be based on the product or service for which a purchase is contemplated. For example, the incentive or discount may be greater for more costly purchases, e.g., whether a flight sought is economy class, premium economy class, business class or first class. The number of frequent flier miles awarded is an example of a highly variable incentive, based on these factors, wherein the award may influence the total cost or value to a passenger of a given flight, i.e., the particular service whose purchase is being contemplated.
The payments options presented to the user may include one or more of the options calculated as mentioned above. One factor in determining which options are presented may include user inputs on preferences. Thus, a user may have previously expressed his or her wishes to never, sometimes, or always to use or not use a particular payment method. For example, a customer may wish to use AMERICAN EXPRESS points only on product-type merchandise available from one source, rather than using such currency (AMERICAN EXPRESS points) to purchase airline tickets or resort lodging. A customer may enjoy flying only on one airline, or may wish always to fly on one airline so as to increase his or her status. Thus, the customer may wish to see flight options only from this airline. In one embodiment, these preferences may be input via a user survey, collected in a database, or expressed via real-time filters to then filter or determine 38 options which are presented to the user.
Taking these factors into account, the computer may then calculate payment options and identify 39 a single best payment option, e.g., a currency, or a series of payment options in a plurality of currencies, of which at least one currency is a rewards program currency. After presenting payment options, the computer may be programmed to facilitate or execute 40 a reservation or purchase transaction for the product or service. In one embodiment, the computer may also be programmed to collect and examine user data, e.g., purchase histories from a user or requester. The computer can search through posted prices for the goods or services purchased by the user, and can also search through incentives available for those goods or services, including similar goods and services not purchased by the user, but for which discount or incentive plans exist or existed. In one embodiment, the computer may then recommend 41 at least one rewards or incentives program which may be better for the particular user either in general or for a class of transactions or for just a single transaction. The program may be better in the sense of offering at least one of lower prices, lower costs, or higher values for the goods or services, or types of goods and services, purchased by the particular user.
Searching for a Product or Service
According to one aspect, as mentioned with respect to
One embodiment of the search interface itself provides enhanced functionality relative to existing search options. For example, many airlines' award inventory search functionality is quite limited because it does not enable search of multiple parameters in a single query. These examples include: multiple days (e.g., +/−3 days of specified dates); multiple airports that serve the same city (e.g., having to enter three separate queries for “JFK”, “EWR”, and “LGA” instead of one query for “NYC”); multiple payment levels (e.g., separate query required for Saver and Standard Award); multiple service classes (e.g., separate queries required for Economy, Business, First); multiple service class variations (e.g., Business class outbound & Coach class return), etc. According the present disclosure, a search of a single reward program provides results that would require 10 or more searches via an existing reward program interface. Furthermore, users of the present disclosure may perform this search substantially instantly and simultaneously across multiple reward programs and multiple payment methods—a process that could otherwise require far more, e.g., one hundred or more separate searches.
Furthermore, existing search functionality is also affected by additional compromises, such as not identifying or making available all possible itineraries per a user's request. Aspects of the present disclosure improve upon at least these identified shortcomings to provide an easier and more powerful search. The present disclosure may enable these improvements via one or more of the following: an enhanced search interface that enables users to specify additional criteria; and an algorithm that smartly interprets user inputs to automatically execute additional relevant searches, inclusion of additional routing possibilities, and additional functionality and analyses. For example, if the user specifies “NYC” as the outbound or destination city, the disclosed system automatically performs searches for all 3 of the separate, major NYC airports (JFK, EWR, LGA) and presents the results to the user in a single search, i.e., a one-step or one click search. More technically, the computer system embodiments described herein are operable to execute a high number of simultaneous searches by executing parallel, asynchronous HTTP requests to multiple product availability sources (e.g., airline sites) and consolidating results as they arrive. The system disclosed herein is able to reach such high concurrency levels by using an event-based asynchronous design in lieu of system threads.
Upon submitting an initial search request, a non-signed-in, non-registered, or new user may be presented with a tour or a brief survey eliciting his or her redemption preferences & behaviors, such as those depicted in
The results of the survey or other collection method can be used to interpret, analyze, and calculate user's personalized values for distinct reward programs and payment methods, which may in turn be used to calculate price parameters, comparable costs, relative values, and other analyses/measures. For a signed-in, registered or returning user whose redemption preferences have already been collected, the same survey is not necessary. Normally, a message such as “Searching service providers, reward programs, and payment methods for availability and prices” may be displayed while the user awaits the search results. However, additional or alternative graphics, forms, messages, surveys, notices, etc. may be presented as well. In one embodiment, if a user or searcher indicates in a survey that he or she never wishes to consider a particular category of goods or services, the system will not calculate options for those classes of goods or services. In another embodiment, the user may be presented, or periodically presented, with an option to venture into those classes of goods or services.
Calculating a Price
The initial, single search request by the user preferably initiates a plurality of searches to find availability of the product, via one or more payment currencies. For flights, for instance, seven payment currencies may be desirable. A user may pay cash or provide an official national currency, e.g., United States dollar-denominated specie, in exchange for the product. This may be possible via a number of mechanisms—provide cash, charge credit card, charge debit card, issue a check, send PAY PAL, etc. The user may redeem miles or points rewards program units accumulated in a reward program in exchange for the product. Examples include AMERICAN AIRLINES AADVANTAGE and STARWOOD PREFERRED GUEST. This form of payment is usually only applicable towards a limited set of flight inventory. This method could also include using cash to purchase “top-off” miles or points that may be required in order to meet the amount required to consummate the transaction. Additionally, this type of action could be part of another or part of multiple payment methods.
The user may transfer miles or points or other program units or credits from one reward program into another reward program in order to then redeem the transferred miles/points in exchange for the product. This method may provide access to both more product options and lower prices. For example, a transfer of 20K STARWOOD points could yield 25K BRITISH AIRWAYS miles. In another currency, a user may initiate a request through a reward program by which the reward program effectively executes a “Pay $” purchase transaction of the product with the desired merchant. In exchange the user's reward program points are debited at a corresponding rate/amount. For example, AMEX offers a “PAY WITH POINTS” feature in which the user's credit card is charged for the purchase of the product, and the AMEX reward program then credits this charge while debiting the user's reward program balance a corresponding number of points. This currency can differ from “Use Miles/Points” in that there are supposedly no inventory restrictions—points can effectively be used to purchase any available flight. However, in exchange for this flexibility, the user could be accepting a potentially comparatively lower exchange value for their miles/points. For example, AMEX's “PAY WITH POINTS” rules apply a 1 point per 1 cent exchange ratio.
In one embodiment, a relative value for the “pay with points” price is calculated in the following manner. The cash price or “pay $ price” is ascertained, as is the value of frequent flyer miles which are planned to be awarded to the prospective traveler. These two are added. The sum of all additional fees required is determined, and this sum is subtracted from the sum of the “pay $ price” and the value of the frequent flyer miles. This sum is then divided by the number or quantity of points required in the “pay with points” payment method or currency. This yields the transaction's point value. The transaction point value is then divided by the normal point value to determine the relative value for this payment method. A similar formula may be used for each of the other currencies or payment methods contemplated, with costs incurred or expected to be incurred subtracted, and with miles, or points, credits or other assets, awarded added to the value.
The same general method may be used in a calculation of a relative value for each of the other currencies or payment methods, such as paying cash, using miles or points, transferring miles or points, an upgrade payment, or using combined methods or combined currencies. For example, in calculating a relative value for an upgrade to first class from either business or coach, the following method may be used. The “pay cash for business” or “pay cash for first class” price is determined, and to this is added the value of the miles which are accrued based on actually purchasing the coach fare. Subtracted are the coach price or business class price which was paid, as well any upgrade or other fees required. The sum is then divided by the number of point, credits or miles required for the upgrade. This yields this upgrade transaction's unit value. The transaction unit value is then divided by the normal unit value to determine the relative value for this upgrade payment method transaction.
The value awarded to reward program points, miles or other credits may be evaluated in a number of ways. The actual awarded value is not determined until these points are used, of course. Nevertheless, an average value may be determined based on historical use of the points, either by the total population of users, by a subset of the population, or by the individual person in question at the moment of contemplating a purchase. In one embodiment, a particular value may be assigned to each redemption category, such as use of domestic coach, international coach, business class domestic, business class international, first class domestic, first class international, and domestic or international upgrades from each of coach or economy class to each of business class and first class, and so forth. The average value may be determined by assigning a cash value to each category and then multiplying each by the relative frequency or percentage of miles used in each class. This results in a composite value for the points so awarded. Other modifications or changes may be made based on changes in the programs or in perceived value received.
The user may also purchase an upgrade in at least two ways. In a first way, the user applies one or a combination of, dollars, miles, or other units, in exchange for a premium version of a product, for example, an upgrade from coach to a business class seat on a particular flight. Availability of this payment method may be quite restricted. However, when available, it may yield much lower prices/higher value than more traditional payment methods. Another way to purchase an upgrade involves a user applying upgrade certificates or coupons or vouchers in exchange for a premium version of a product, e.g., an upgrade from coach to a business class seat on a particular flight. Availability of this payment method may be quite restricted, and highly variable—and it can depend on seat availability close to the time of flight departure, the user's status with the associated airline's reward program, and other factors. These two methods of paying for an upgrade may be presented as merely one method in the charts and tables presented herein, but either or both methods are intended to be included.
The user may also utilize a combination of the previous six payment currencies, or other payment currencies that include a combination of payment methods, in exchange for the product. For example, DELTA AIR LINES' “PAY W/MILES” payment method enables purchase of flights effectively using a combination of “Pay $” and “Use Miles/Points”. Similarly, AMERICAN AIRLINES' “ONE-WAY FLEX AWARDS” may enable purchase of a round-trip flight via “Use Miles/Points” for one leg and “Pay $,” or another payment method, for the other leg. In an alternate embodiment, “Combine Methods” may require different payment methods per each leg of the flight. For example, an outbound payment method may require “Pay $,” while an inbound payment method may require “Use Miles/Points”. In such a scenario, Delta's “PAY W/MILES” option may not be considered part of the “Combine Methods” payment method, because the outbound leg & return leg are effectively both paid for via the same payment method. The payment methods identified above are exemplary embodiments, and are not intended to limit the present disclosure. The identified payment methods correspond to a framework that combines 1) the currency unit, and 2) the transfer relationships.
Another exemplary embodiment for payment methods corresponding to the same framework that combines 1) the currency unit, and 2) the transfer relationships may include, but are not limited to currencies of cash, miles, points, transfer of rewards program currency, upgrades and combined currencies.
In another exemplary embodiment, payment methods using solely the currency unit framework may include, but are not limited to, cash, miles, points, credits, certificates for a merchant's products, and a combination.
Another exemplary embodiment for payment methods using solely the currency unit framework may include, but are not limited to cash, rewards currency and combine cash and reward program currency.
Another exemplary embodiment for payment currencies using solely the transfer relationship framework may include, but are not limited to the following: i) Buy: Transfer currency from non-reward program to merchant for a merchant's product; ii) Redeem: Debit currency in merchant's reward program for same merchant's product; iii) Transfer: Transfer currency from one reward program into another merchant's reward program for that merchant's product; iv) x-Purchase: Debit a user's currency in one reward program while sending money to another merchant (not reward program) for that merchant's product; v) Upgrade: Execute sequentially-dependent currency transactions for a merchant's product; and vi) Combine: Combine any of above payment currencies in exchange for a merchant's product.
Clearly, different frameworks are possible to describe payment currencies/methods. Thus, the number, definition, terms, and/or name of payment methods, among other attributes, may be varied as desired. Further, the present disclosure includes any type of payment currencies in which two representations of value are exchanged. Further, payment methods as discussed herein may be aggregated, reduced, altered, or otherwise modified.
Searching for Information About Products and Services
The exemplary search for product availability and collection of published prices for a flight or other good or service may be executed in several ways including, but not limited to access via these methods: i) Screen Scraping; ii) Airline Reservation System (ARS)/Direct Feed from travel provider; iii) Global Distribution System (GDS); iv) Alternative Content Access Platforms (ACAP); v) Host Agency, and vi) a Travel Agency.
At this point after collection of prices, in one embodiment, a relative lowest total price is established for each payment currency. However, these prices may be reduced by potential discounts. A net price is the offered price less one more discounts or reductions. Additional eligible discounts may optionally be applied to each of the payment currencies in order to determine the lowest total price per payment method. These discounts may apply to any user or may be personalized—only applicable for certain individuals and/or persons meeting specified criteria. Further, there are many potential sources for discounts: airlines/travel providers, credit cards, reward programs, deal aggregators, etc. Specific efforts are preferably made to apply the most optimal discounts (e.g., magnitude, relevance, etc.) from the most optimal sources (e.g., reliability, frequency, etc.), if not all of them. Integration of discounts establishes the final lowest total price per payment method. In one embodiment, and with reference to the Process Flow Chart of
However, in order to effectively compare prices across payment currencies, it is desirable for the prices to also be converted into/expressed as/made available as an equivalent price or “comparable cost”. For example, it is neither obvious nor simple for a user to determine whether paying $250, redeeming 25,000 AA miles, or using 25,000 STARWOOD points is a lower price/better value. Thus, it is desirable for a comparable cost to be calculated per payment method, as shown in
In one way to calculate prices and present the results,
Each flight which was discovered by this search is available for purchase in four currencies, including $140 in cash, use of 12,500 AMERICAN AIRLINES ADVANTAGE miles, a transfer of 12,500 STARWOOD points, or for paying with 14,669 AMERICAN EXPRESS points. Since at least the first two results presented in
WisePrice Scoring Function
The system may use a scoring function to determine the best result or payment method or payment option. In one embodiment, a best score is a function of just the WisePrice. In such a scheme, the rating is calculated as follows: WisePrice score=max(1,100−(WisePrice−WisePrice_min)/10), where WisePrice equals the WisePrice of the payment option that is currently being scored and wherein WisePrice min equals the lowest Wiseprice of all payment options for the particular product or service being considered. The max(1, . . . ) function ensures that the minimum score is 1. Dividing by 10 enables increasing the range of WisePrices shown from 100 to 1000. Some examples of how a range of WisePrices convert to scores are shown in Table I.
Importantly, in this embodiment, regardless of the range of WisePrices, a difference in score of 1 point (for scores higher than 1) is exactly equivalent to a $10 difference in WisePrice. Other embodiments may use other algorithms. Preferably, a scoring function is used to calculate a single value to capture the collective importance of several functions or variables. Examples of such variables include “WisePrice”, “relative value”, “earned rewards”, and “improve status.” This rule and all other rules and calculations disclosed herein may be part of the Rules Database.
Note that in
As discussed elsewhere, the “true cost” depicted in the figures represents the comparable cost after known incentives are added, or the dollar equivalent of the price, including the value of rewards earned. A true cost or net price is the offered price less one or more discounts or reductions. In this case, the true cost may reflect the effect of frequent flyer miles expected to be received by the user for making the purchase and taking the flight.
In the same manner, if it costs the user 12,500 transferred STARWOOD points, the user is still receiving a value of 1.12 cents per Starwood point. However, in the past, either this user or users generally received a value of 2.33 cents per STARWOOD point. Thus, using the STARWOOD points for this purchase represents a discount (unfavorable to the user) of 1.12/2.33 or 52%, and is receiving only 48% of the normal value of his or her Starwood points. Thus, the relative value of the Starwood points in this transaction is only 0.48×their normal value. For the AMERICAN EXPRESS points however, the user is receiving a value of 1.27 cents per point, which by itself is greater than the 1.12 cents per AA mile or STARWOOD point. In addition, however, AMEX points, either for this user or generally, typically have a value of only 0.89 cents per point. Thus, the prospective passenger is receiving a premium (favorable to the user) of 1.27/0.89 or 43%, and is receiving 143% of the value he or she normally receives for AMEX points. Thus, paying for the flight in AMEX points “currency” with a 43% is the best overall value found in this search. In various embodiments, the best overall value could be based on both the true cost and the relative value measure or just one measure or an entirely different measure or measures.
The remainder of the flights in
The hover text views are explained in
In a second example,
According to one way to calculate the comparable cost—dollars, miles, points and other potential payment method currency units may be converted into a common unit/equivalent currency. One aspect of the present disclosure uses “US$” as the common unit, although another unit could be used as well. Alternately, a comparative unit may be created. For example, the comparable cost could be presented as a “score”, perhaps as a numerical value (e.g., 250, 8), or presented as a “recommendation” (e.g., “good deal”, thumbs up icon, smiley-face icon), or in some other manner. The intent is simply to develop an index/score that enables a quick comparison and ranking Thus, an exchange value is assigned to each reward program unit (e.g., an AMERICAN AIRLINES AADVANTAGE mile, a UNITED AIRLINES MILEAGEPLUS mile, a STARWOOD STARPOINT). The exchange value may be calculated based on a number of on-going analyses that vary in complexity. At least three instances of the exchange value may be included: 1) “default”, 2) “personalized”, and 3) “user-specified”. The “default” exchange value may be calculated based on an average user's redemption behavior. The “personalized” exchange value may be calculated for a particular user based on that particular user's purchase and redemption behavior & preferences.
The surveys of
Several comparable costs may be calculated. In addition to a version that approximates a user's opportunity cost to use a payment method, as described above, another version approximates a user's acquisition cost to use a payment method. The latter version preferably approximates the unique cost to each user to acquire the amount of “currency” required for the payment. For example, assume the price for a flight using the “Pay w/Points” payment method is 50,000 points. Assume the user has acquired 50,000 points over a 2-year period. Further assume the user has made 2 annual-fee payments for the associated credit card of $50 per year. In one embodiment of the formula, the acquisition cost, or comparable cost, for that 50,000 points price is $100. In another embodiment, the formula could be modified to include the impact of sign-up bonus points, bonus points accrued for specific transactions, actual dollar transaction charges required to accrue the points, and so forth.
While the comparable costs enable comparison across payment methods, users may also seek to understand, for each payment method, how the current transaction price compares to “normal/average/similar” transaction prices. Hence, calculation of a relative value, and/or other value measures, enables comparison within a payment method by identifying how much or how little value a potential transaction provides relative to “normal.” More specifically, the relative value compares a transaction's $, miles, points or price in another currency to that payment method's “normal” price, e.g., US$, AA miles, STARWOOD points or price in another currency, as shown in
For example, if the product search displays a result for a flight with a “Pay $” method price of $80, and normally the price would be $100, then purchasing that flight using the “Pay $” method would provide a relative value equal to 120% or 1.2×(1+$20/$100) the normal value. Analogously, if for the “Use Miles/Points” method, the transaction is providing 0.5 cents mile value and the normal mile value is 1.5 cents, then purchasing that flight using the “Use Miles/Points” method would provide a relative value equal to 33% or 0.33 (0.5 cents/1.5 cents) of the normal value. In this example, the relative value calculation converts miles and/or points into a corresponding $ value to effect the comparison; however, other conversions, or embodiments, could be used to determine the relative value. Additionally, the normal value may be calibrated/calculated in many ways. In one embodiment, a historical average across an entire population of flights may be used. In another embodiment, a user's personal behavior could be analyzed to determine a personalized normal value per payment method. In another embodiment, a user could specify a normal value per payment method. In another embodiment, a user could specify a minimum or floor value per payment method. Utilizing a normal value based on the user's personal behavior or specification, further personalizes, or makes unique, the relative value calculation per each individual user. Each payment method may require a unique formula to calculate the relative value, or value measures, as will be understood by those skilled in the art.
At this point, availability, prices, comparable costs, and relative values measures per payment method have now been determined and can be presented/displayed/made available to the user, as shown in
In one embodiment, the presentation may include identification of the “best” payment method. In one embodiment, the best payment method may be identified as the one with the lowest comparable cost, as shown in
The parameters that determine best payment method may influence and/or determine how search results are displayed in the interface. For example, if for a particular user, comparable cost is the key decision criteria, then the results will be ordered by comparable cost—flights with the lowest comparable cost will be listed first. More specifically, in the “by flight” view of
Integral to the analysis described thus far is processing performed or information collected via a reward program management module, as shown in
Thus, part of a user's computer-based rewards program management module may include the basic interface or “dashboard” shown in
A more sophisticated or advanced management module is depicted in
A user's reward program information may initially be collected when a user selects to add/connect/link/track a program and then enters their corresponding account number and password. This information may be collected by performing a screen-scraping, but could be enabled by other methods, including direct access, or a third party (in which case, account number and password credentials may not be required). Substantially similar methods may be used to continually and in real-time update the user's information. As the management module may access, aggregate, analyze, and present all of the user's reward program information in a simplified, centralized view, it can facilitate on-going, incremental analyses while also being a core element of certain analyses—such as identification of best payment method.
Calculations of Payment Methods and Associated Cost and Value Analysis
Different currencies for payments were discussed above. One series of payment calculations is now discussed in detail with respect to
A cost and value calculation method for “use points/miles” currency transaction is disclosed in
In another embodiment, the pay with points payment method allows a user to redeem points and yet receive an incentive, in the form of frequent flyer miles. In this example, the user's airline miles are valued at 0.8 cents per mile, thus yielding a cost to the user of $160 when he or she pays with 20,000 points. Additional fees of $100 are also required, for a total input of $260. In return, however, the passenger receives 5500 frequent flyer miles valued at $55. Thus, the true cost of this flight, paying in this manner, is $205.
An example of a combine payment method is depicted in
System Booking Instructions (
It is desirable for any and all payment methods the user is presented with or wishes to view to include accompanying instructions that direct the user on how to most easily purchase the product (e.g., book the flight). Additionally, it is preferable, that for certain if not all payment methods, the reservation or purchase transaction can be executed directly and instantly (e.g., reserving or booking the flight), and/or significantly facilitated relative to traditional offerings, as shown in
The trading platform/exchange functionality of the system also provides leverage for enhanced booking. It is anticipated that the system will enable multiple parties to trade/share/exchange reward program currencies across their various accounts with other users and entities. This platform can also enable reservation and purchase of a flight via a payment method that the user would otherwise not be able to execute/afford. For example, if a user does not have enough of a program balance to purchase a “Use Miles/Points” payment method, but another user does and is willing to engage in a trade, the system can automate purchase of the flight for said payment method via another user's balance and coordinate a balance transaction that is equitable to both parties. Alternatively, the system could arrange a direct transfer (probably for some equitable payment now or in the future) of the necessary currency from one user's account to the user's account that wishes to make the purchase. Upon completion of the personal transfer transaction, the user that didn't have enough of a balance could now purchase the desired flight. Another example would be to integrate the use of one user's hypothetical extra upgrade certificate for another user's purchase of a premium cabin in return for suitable compensation. Likewise, given the potential delay associated with the “Transfer” payment method, an immediate purchase could be executed by another user or the system owners, assuming either has a sufficient balance and is willing to engage in the transaction, likely in exchange for additional compensation, via the “Use Miles/Payment” method, while a personal transfer of the equivalent amount of currency is sent from the initiating user's account to the purchasing entity's account. Systems described herein are capable of performing a number of unique purchase transactions.
One advantage of the product search and related functions described herein is that it enables the collection and assessment of granular data regarding a user's actual payment preferences and behaviors across his or her rewards programs and different products and services. The available data includes user behavior and preferences: collected via survey, specified within the management module, interpreted based on existing reward program accounts, and analyzed via historical & current reward program activities (e.g., searches performed, itineraries reserved, transactions booked, purchases, redemptions). This data is unique and invaluable in that it is substantially comprehensive—providing a 360 degree view across all of a user's payment methods, precise—discrete transactional SKU-level data, and personal—for a specific user. As such, this data may be further analyzed to distill and form additional insights and recommendations. In one embodiment, the system enables partners and customers to deliver real-time, targeted, personalized, and unique advertisements, offers, and messages to all, a subset, or a single user. This is due to both the user data collected and the ability to identify system users. Partners generally are only able to collect data about their consumers within the domains of their own program. The present system enables collection of data about those consumers across multiple reward programs, multiple domains such as travel and shopping, and across multiple payment methods (e.g., paying cash vs. miles vs. points vs. transfer vs. upgrade). As users are also generally logged-in when using the system, that identification enables partners to provide a personalized offer to specific users. For example, assume AMEX wanted to target customers who live in NYC and fly internationally several times annually. When a customer fitting that profile uses the system, AMEX could send that customer an offer to sign-up for an AMEX card that would also provide immediate bonus points sufficient to pay for the flight that the user is presently considering. There are limitless embodiments of the special offers that partners could serve to users.
For instance, this data may be analyzed in order to recommend the optimal reward program for an individual user. The analysis preferably includes examining the payment method analyses described thus far (e.g., product availability, discounts, prices, comparable costs, relative values, best payment method) in conjunction with a user's preferences, behaviors/actions, available payment methods, and other potential variables. For example, if for a majority of user's searches, “Pay w/Points” via the AMEX MR program was the cheapest or best payment method, and the user did not have an AMEX MR associated credit card, the user may receive a recommendation to apply for such a credit card and use it and the MR points for appropriate future payments and/or redemptions. Similarly, if a user routinely uses the Pay w/Points payment method in conjunction with an AMEX credit card, but is only at the Membership Rewards Express level, the user may receive a recommendation to upgrade to Membership Rewards Standard or Membership Rewards First in order to receive more value or to pay less for associated transactions. Similarly, if a user's primary reward program redemptions were for hotels, a user may be recommended to use the STARWOOD program for such transactions if that action would provide more value or would cost less. Likewise, a user could be recommended to use “x” reward program for “A” activities and “y” reward program for “B” activities. The spectrum of impactful recommendations is wide-ranging.
In another embodiment, shown in
Additional details for the recommendations of
In one embodiment, the web site for the user may include specific instructions for consummating the transaction. This may include purchasing a product or service, such as booking an airline flight or tour cruise. As disclosed in
Transferring points from one vendor to another may require more effort. The screen depicted in
Subscribers can then use these resources to track how users use their rewards programs and to use this information to make additional contacts with these customers. Table II below depicts some advantages of the present disclosure.
In broad embodiments, the computer search and calculation identifies the best payment currency for a product. One way to describe the exemplary system is that it accepts requests from users and then accesses or exchanges information from and with many potential data sources. The system then evaluates the information in order to present the users with the best answers to their search requests. There are many potential external or third party data sources that the system is operable to interface with. In the context of a user's request to search for a flight, Table III depicts some potential data sources, among many others.
Other types of data sources may be referenced as well, and any and multiple data sources could be accessed for multiple purposes as well.
With regards to flight inventory, the data sources may provide different levels of detail with respect to availability, price, cost, value, and/or other parameters. For example, airlines provide seat availability at various levels of detail and accuracy through various channels of distribution. The detail level can range from a simple “seats available/unavailable” status for a single fare class to a specific “number of seats available” for every single, sellable fare class. The accuracy can range from an irregular, regular, random or routine update of stored seats available value for a fare class, to a real-time/each time a seat-is-transacted seats available values for every single fare class. Generally, airlines provide more detail and more accurate availability internally than they provide externally. The airline's own Revenue Management (sometimes called Inventory or Pricing Management), Reservation, and Internet functions and divisions, to name a few, have access to the most detailed and most accurate availability. This internal availability may also include cheaper fares than provided externally. Service providers such as travel agencies, online travel agencies (OTA's), online search engines (such as KAYAK), global distribution systems (GDS's) and all other distributors of airline product not directly managed by the airlines themselves may be provided with less detailed and/or less accurate seat availability. In addition, the fares posted may not be the cheapest fares available to the airline's internal customers.
The present disclosure provides access to the more detailed and accurate seat availability that airlines generally provide internally. This seat availability may, but is not necessarily, sourced from the airlines themselves and in some instances may be sourced from a service provider other than the airline with no loss of detail or accuracy. There are many potential embodiments of the system. The components may communicate with each other or one of more of them may be joined into a single component. For example, the Rules DB may be a separate component or may be included within the Pricing Engine. Likewise, the Pricing Engine may be a separate component or may be included with the Search Engine. While all connecting lines within the system schematic of
The methods and systems described herein may be deployed in part or in whole through a machine that executes computer software, program codes, and/or instructions on a processor. The processor may be part of a server, client, network infrastructure, mobile computing platform, stationary computing platform, or other computing platform. A processor may be any kind of computational or processing device operable to execute program instructions, codes, binary instructions and the like. The processor may be or include a signal processor, digital processor, embedded processor, microprocessor or any variant such as a co-processor (math co-processor, graphic co-processor, communication co-processor and the like) and the like that may directly or indirectly facilitate execution of program code or program instructions stored thereon. In addition, the processor may enable execution of multiple programs, threads, and codes. The threads may be executed simultaneously to enhance the performance of the processor and to facilitate simultaneous operations of the application. By way of implementation, methods, program codes, program instructions and the like described herein may be implemented in one or more thread. The thread may spawn other threads that may have assigned priorities associated with them; the processor may execute these threads based on priority or any other order based on instructions provided in the program code. The processor may include memory that stores methods, codes, instructions and programs as described herein and elsewhere. The processor may access a storage medium through an interface that may store methods, codes, and instructions as described herein and elsewhere. The storage medium associated with the processor for storing methods, programs, codes, program instructions or other type of instructions operable to be executed by the computing or processing device may include but may not be limited to one or more of a CD-ROM, DVD, memory, hard disk, flash drive, RAM, ROM, cache and the like.
A processor may include one or more cores that may enhance speed and performance of a multiprocessor. In some embodiments, the processor may include any number of cores, including dual core processors, quad core processors, other chip-level multiprocessor and the like that combine two or more independent cores (referred to as die by those skilled in the art).
The methods and systems described herein may be deployed in part or in whole through a machine that executes computer software on a server, client, firewall, gateway, hub, router, or other such computer and/or networking hardware. The software program may be associated with a server that may include a file server, print server, domain server, internet server, intranet server and other variants such as secondary server, host server, distributed server and the like. The server may include one or more of memories, processors, computer readable media, storage media, ports (physical and virtual), communication devices, and interfaces operable to access other servers, clients, machines, and devices through a wired or a wireless medium, and the like. The methods, programs or codes as described herein and elsewhere may be executed by the server. In addition, other devices required for execution of methods as described in this application may be considered as a part of the infrastructure associated with the server.
The server may provide an interface to other devices including, without limitation, clients, other servers, printers, database servers, print servers, file servers, communication servers, distributed servers and the like. Additionally, this coupling and/or connection may facilitate remote execution of program across the network. The networking of some or all of these devices may facilitate parallel processing of a program or method at one or more location without deviating from the scope of the invention. In addition, any of the devices attached to the server through an interface may include at least one storage medium operable to store methods, programs, code and/or instructions. A central repository may provide program instructions to be executed on different devices. In this implementation, the remote repository may act as a storage medium for program code, instructions, and programs.
The software program may be associated with a client that may include a file client, print client, domain client, internet client, intranet client and other variants such as secondary client, host client, distributed client and the like. The client may include one or more of memories, processors, computer readable media, storage media, ports (physical and virtual), communication devices, and interfaces operable to access other clients, servers, machines, and devices through a wired or a wireless medium, and the like. The methods, programs or codes as described herein and elsewhere may be executed by the client. In addition, other devices required for execution of methods as described in this application may be considered as a part of the infrastructure associated with the client.
The client may provide an interface to other devices including, without limitation, servers, other clients, printers, database servers, print servers, file servers, communication servers, distributed servers and the like. Additionally, this coupling and/or connection may facilitate remote execution of program across the network. The networking of some or all of these devices may facilitate parallel processing of a program or method at one or more location without deviating from the scope of the invention. In addition, any of the devices attached to the client through an interface may include at least one storage medium operable to store methods, programs, applications, code and/or instructions. A central repository may provide program instructions to be executed on different devices. In this implementation, the remote repository may act as a storage medium for program code, instructions, and programs.
The methods and systems described herein may be deployed in part or in whole through network infrastructures. The network infrastructure may include elements such as computing devices, servers, routers, hubs, firewalls, clients, personal computers, communication devices, routing devices and other active and passive devices, modules and/or components as known in the art. The computing and/or non-computing device(s) associated with the network infrastructure may include, apart from other components, a storage medium such as flash memory, buffer, stack, RAM, ROM and the like. The processes, methods, program codes, instructions described herein and elsewhere may be executed by one or more of the network infrastructural elements.
The methods, program codes, and instructions described herein and elsewhere may be implemented on a cellular network having multiple cells. The cellular network may either be frequency division multiple access (FDMA) network or code division multiple access (CDMA) network. The cellular network may include mobile devices, cell sites, base stations, repeaters, antennas, towers, and the like. The cell network may be a GSM, GPRS, 3G, EVDO, mesh, or other networks types.
The methods, programs codes, and instructions described herein and elsewhere may be implemented on or through mobile devices. The mobile devices may include navigation devices, cell phones, mobile phones, mobile personal digital assistants, laptops, palmtops, netbooks, pagers, electronic books readers, music players and the like. These devices may include, apart from other components, a storage medium such as a flash memory, buffer, RAM, ROM and one or more computing devices. The computing devices associated with mobile devices may be enabled to execute program codes, methods, and instructions stored thereon. Alternatively, the mobile devices may be configured to execute instructions in collaboration with other devices. The mobile devices may communicate with base stations interfaced with servers and configured to execute program codes. The mobile devices may communicate on a peer to peer network, mesh network, or other communications network. The program code may be stored on the storage medium associated with the server and executed by a computing device embedded within the server. The base station may include a computing device and a storage medium. The storage device may store program codes and instructions executed by the computing devices associated with the base station.
The computer software, program codes, and/or instructions may be stored and/or accessed on machine readable media that may include: computer components, devices, and recording media that retain digital data used for computing for some interval of time; semiconductor storage known as random access memory (RAM); mass storage typically for more permanent storage, such as optical discs, forms of magnetic storage like hard disks, tapes, drums, cards and other types; processor registers, cache memory, volatile memory, non-volatile memory; optical storage such as CD, DVD; removable media such as flash memory (e.g. USB sticks or keys), floppy disks, magnetic tape, paper tape, punch cards, standalone RAM disks, Zip drives, removable mass storage, off-line, and the like; other computer memory such as dynamic memory, static memory, read/write storage, mutable storage, read only, random access, sequential access, location addressable, file addressable, content addressable, network attached storage, storage area network, bar codes, magnetic ink, and the like.
The methods and systems described herein may transform physical and/or or intangible items from one state to another. The methods and systems described herein may also transform data representing physical and/or intangible items from one state to another.
The elements described and depicted herein, including in flow charts and block diagrams throughout the figures, imply logical boundaries between the elements. However, according to software or hardware engineering practices, the depicted elements and the functions thereof may be implemented on machines through computer executable media having a processor operable to execute program instructions stored thereon as a monolithic software structure, as standalone software modules, or as modules that employ external routines, code, services, and so forth, or any combination of these, and all such implementations may be within the scope of the present disclosure. Examples of such machines may include, but may not be limited to, personal digital assistants, laptops, personal computers, mobile phones, other handheld computing devices, medical equipment, wired or wireless communication devices, transducers, chips, calculators, satellites, tablet PCs, electronic books, gadgets, electronic devices, devices having artificial intelligence, computing devices, networking equipments, servers, routers and the like. Furthermore, the elements depicted in the flow chart and block diagrams or any other logical component may be implemented on a machine capable of executing program instructions. Thus, while the foregoing drawings and descriptions set forth functional aspects of the disclosed systems, no particular arrangement of software for implementing these functional aspects should be inferred from these descriptions unless explicitly stated or otherwise clear from the context. Similarly, it will be appreciated that the various steps identified and described above may be varied, and that the order of steps may be adapted to particular applications of the techniques disclosed herein. All such variations and modifications are intended to fall within the scope of this disclosure. As such, the depiction and/or description of an order for various steps should not be understood to require a particular order of execution for those steps, unless required by a particular application, or explicitly stated or otherwise clear from the context.
The methods and/or processes described above, and steps thereof, may be realized in hardware, software or any combination of hardware and software suitable for a particular application. The hardware may include a general purpose computer and/or dedicated computing device or specific computing device or particular aspect or component of a specific computing device. The processes may be realized in one or more microprocessors, microcontrollers, embedded microcontrollers, programmable digital signal processors or other programmable device, along with internal and/or external memory. The processes may also, or instead, be embodied in an application specific integrated circuit, a programmable gate array, programmable array logic, or any other device or combination of devices that may be configured to process electronic signals. It will further be appreciated that one or more of the processes may be realized as a computer executable code operable to be executed on a machine readable medium.
The computer executable code may be created using a structured programming language such as C, an object oriented programming language such as C++, or any other high-level or low-level programming language (including assembly languages, hardware description languages, and database programming languages and technologies) that may be stored, compiled or interpreted to run on one of the above devices, as well as heterogeneous combinations of processors, processor architectures, or combinations of different hardware and software, or any other machine operable to execute program instructions.
Thus, in one aspect, each method described above and combinations thereof may be embodied in computer executable code that, when executing on one or more computing devices, performs the steps thereof. In another aspect, the methods may be embodied in systems that perform the steps thereof, and may be distributed across devices in a number of ways, or all of the functionality may be integrated into a dedicated, standalone device or other hardware. In another aspect, the means for performing the steps associated with the processes described above may include any of the hardware and/or software described above. All such permutations and combinations are intended to fall within the scope of the present disclosure.
While the disclosure has been made in connection with the embodiments shown and described in detail, various modifications and improvements thereon will become readily apparent to those skilled in the art. Accordingly, the spirit and scope of the present disclosure is not to be limited by the foregoing examples, but is to be understood in the broadest sense allowable by law. Those skilled in the art will understand that various embodiments are described herein for the purposes of illustrating and explaining the aspects of the present invention. Although different aspects, embodiments, or the like may be described separately, it will be understood that they may be combined in any desirable manner. In other words, though embodiments may be described separately the present invention is not intended to foreclose the combination of those embodiments, and expressly includes such combinations. For example, a provider may search for prices and display not prices, but a score or other derived result. The provider may calculate a score for each product or service option, rather than a price. A score that is related to the results of a search and in prices such as cash, points or miles, is equivalent to a price or a value in this context. All documents referenced herein are hereby incorporated by reference.
While the foregoing written description enables one of ordinary skill to make and use what is considered presently to be the best mode thereof, those of ordinary skill will understand and appreciate the existence of variations, combinations, and equivalents of the specific embodiment, method, and examples herein. The disclosure should therefore not be limited by the above described embodiment, method, and examples, but by all embodiments and methods within the scope and spirit of the invention.
1. A computerized method of calculating a price, comprising:
- conducting a computerized search for prices for a product or service for a user;
- receiving a first price in a first currency and at least one second price in a rewards currency for the product or service;
- converting the at least one second price in a rewards currency to an equivalent cash price, the step of converting based on at least one of estimated usage of the at least one rewards currency by the user or a group of users, actual usage of the at least one rewards currency by the user or a group of users, historical usage data of the at least one rewards currency by the user or a group of users, a desired future usage of the at least one rewards currency by the user or a group of users, historical usage data from at least one rewards program, a status or desire for status of the user, and potential usage of the at least one rewards program; and
- calculating the price.
2. The method of claim 1, wherein the step of converting is based on the user's historical usage of the rewards currency or based on at least one response from the user to a query concerning at least one of past or prospective use of the rewards currency.
3. The method of claim 1, wherein the first currency is selected from the group consisting of a domestic currency, a foreign currency, a cash currency, a virtual currency, money, rewards points, rewards credits and rewards miles.
4. The method of claim 1, further comprising calculating an average value in cash over a time period for at least one rewards currency and comparing the average value to a present value in the common currency of the at least one currency for a rewards program in results presented to the user.
5. The method of claim 1, further comprising calculating a net value and a relative value for the product or service.
6. The method of claim 1, further comprising calculating a cash value of at least one rewards currency earned by the user in purchasing the product or service and using the cash value of the reward in calculating the price.
7. The method of claim 1, wherein in converting the at least one second price in a rewards currency to an equivalent cash price, the step of converting is based on an acquisition cost of the at least one rewards currency.
8. A computerized method of calculating a value, comprising:
- receiving at least one reward currency balance of a user; and
- calculating a value of the at least one reward currency balance of the user in a common currency,
- wherein the step of calculating is based on at least one of historical usage data from the user, a desired future usage by the user, historical usage data from at least one rewards program, and a status of the user.
9. The method of claim 8, wherein the at least one reward currency balance is selected from the group consisting of rewards points, rewards credits and rewards miles.
10. The method of claim 8, further comprising adapting the step of calculating based on a user input, based on a user's historical usage of the at least one reward currency, or based on at least one response from the user to a query concerning at least one of past or prospective use of the currency.
11. The method of claim 8, further comprising:
- accepting a request from the user to find a product or a service;
- in response to the request, conducting a computerized search to find price information for the product or service;
- calculating a first result in a currency of the at least one rewards program and a second result in the common currency; and
- presenting at least one result of the search to the user.
12. The method of claim 8, wherein the common currency is selected from the group consisting of US dollars, Canadian dollars, European Euros and British pounds.
13. A computerized method of calculating a value, comprising:
- receiving at least one non-cash reward balance of a user; and
- calculating a value of the at least one non-cash reward balance of the user in a cash currency,
- wherein the step of calculating is based on at least one of historical usage data from the user, a desired future usage by the user, historical usage data from at least one rewards program, and a status of the user.
14. The method of claim 13, wherein the at least one reward balance of the user comprises a plurality of rewards balances, and wherein the step of calculating includes calculating a relative value of each of the reward balances in terms of the others of the reward balances and in terms of the cash currency.
15. The method of claim 13, further comprising:
- conducting a computerized search for a product or service for the user; and
- presenting at least one result of the search to the user, wherein the at least one result is presented in terms of a price in terms of the non-cash reward balance of the user, and if a second result of the search is presented to the user, the second result of the search is presented in terms of a different non-cash reward balance price of the user or a cash price.
16. The method of claim 13, wherein the step of calculating the value in the cash currency is based on a premium or penalty value of the reward currency based on historical use of the user or a group of users.
17. The method of claim 13, wherein the at least one non-cash reward balance is selected from the group consisting of rewards points, rewards credits and rewards miles.
18. A system, comprising:
- a computer;
- a user database connected to the computer, the user database comprising information of a plurality of users concerning user preferences for products, services and at least one rewards program;
- a rules database connected to the computer, the rules database comprising information of a plurality of merchants and providers of products and services, said rules database also comprising information for rewards programs of the plurality of merchants and providers;
- a computer program embodied on a computer-readable memory accessible to the computer, the computer program comprising a search engine for searching for prices for the products and services, and a pricing engine for calculating prices, values and costs for the products and services,
- wherein the computer program is adapted to calculate a cash value for points, miles or other rewards of a rewards program.
19. The system of claim 18, wherein cash is selected from the group consisting of national currencies.
20. The system of claim 18, wherein the computer program is adapted to access a plurality of providers, intermediaries and aggregators of the products and services to update the rules database and the user database.
21. The system of claim 18, wherein the computer program is adapted to update the user database by accumulating discrete transactional data of individual user's purchases, preferences, and redemption behavior across multiple payment methods, including rewards programs.
22. The system of claim 18, where the computer program is adapted to calculate a personalized cash value for points, miles or other rewards of a user's rewards programs.
International Classification: G06Q 30/02 (20060101);