iDine, AOL in Rewards Deal

Restaurant incentive marketer iDine Rewards Network aims to target America Online users through a joint promotional agreement.

Through the deal, the Dulles, Va.-based Internet unit of AOL Time Warner will encourage its reported 34 million subscribers to sign up for a program it’s launching in conjunction with Miami-based iDine.

The joint program, titled AOL Dining and slated to launch next quarter, will offer credits to America Online subscribers for dining at more than 7,500 participating restaurants nationally. The credits, which are awarded automatically if a participant pays with a registered debit or credit card, are used to defray the cost of an America Online subscription.

AOL said it plans to promote a co-branded registration site for the program, enrollment in which is free.

The program is the latest in a host of co-branded incentive marketing deals that AOL has launched through its America Online division. The company participates in AAdvantage with American Airlines, American Express’s Membership Rewards, and a host of other incentive programs in conjunction with rewards marketing giant Trilegiant. Such programs are typically promoted through online ads, pop-up offers at sign-on, email and direct mail to America Online’s subscribers.

“We’re delighted America Online has chosen iDine as its dining rewards partner,” said iDine President and Chief Executive Gene Henderson. “America Online is the world’s leading interactive services company and the only one to offer a dining program that allows members to earn credits good toward time online. With its vast audience and unmatched brand, America Online has the potential to assist us in driving significant business to our participating restaurants. This alliance will further strengthen iDine’s industry leadership as a provider of nationally based dining rewards programs.”

The precise financial terms of such deals are closely guarded, but in addition to cutting AOL Time Warner in on revenue from signups or sales, many of its partners also agree to promote the America Online service to their own members.

That has proven a major factor in convincing AOL to sign these sorts of arrangements, insiders say. Norwalk, Conn.-based Trilegiant, for instance, operates traveling, retail, and automotive programs that reach about 100 million Americans. The firm also maintains joint co-marketing ties with its former parent, car rental and real estate conglomerate Cendant .

“We are always looking for new ways to make AOL membership more valuable, and we’re pleased to add this dining program as another great benefit for our members,” said America Online President of Marketing Joe Redling. “We believe our members will enjoy iDine’s consumer-friendly program, which will allow them to earn credit good toward the AOL service by simply dining at the many restaurants within iDine’s nationwide network.”

The news comes shortly after America Online reported continuing increases in its subscriber base, but at a slowing rate of growth. Since September, the service’s worldwide membership has increased by only three million. A year earlier, the service had added four million members during the same period.

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