Earn Crypto While You Fly: Why Airline Reward Programs Are Taking to the Blockchain

Harri Weber

Harri is dot.LA's senior finance reporter. She previously worked for Gizmodo, Fast Company, VentureBeat and Flipboard. Find her on Twitter and send tips on L.A. startups and venture capital to harrison@dot.la.

​A FlyCoin ad on an airline passageway.
Courtesy of FlyCoin

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These days, more startups are looking to cash in on crypto fever by offering customer loyalty rewards through the blockchain. But how many of them also happen to run their own airline?

That’s the question posed by Josh Jones, the Los Angeles-based investor and crypto evangelist whose role in resurrecting regional airline Ravn Alaska was the impetus for his latest venture, FlyCoin. Billing itself as “the world’s first crypto frequent flier program,” the startup is built around FLY, a crypto token minted on the Ethereum blockchain that travelers will be able to earn by flying—much like traditional frequent flier miles.


To fund its launch, L.A.-based FlyCoin closed a $33 million seed round earlier this month led by Jones, who co-founded the web hosting platform DreamHost and recently made headlines after losing millions in Bitcoin through a SIM swap attack. Other investors in FlyCoin’s funding round include System1 co-founder Michael Blend, TenOneTen Ventures, 8VC, Liquid 2 and Gaingels. The startup declined to publicly disclose its valuation. (Disclosure: Jones is an investor in dot.LA)

Currently, the only way to earn FLY is by booking a flight through Anchorage, Alaska-based Ravn, which exclusively serves its home state. Later this year, FlyCoin plans to make the token available on crypto wallets and exchanges, meaning holders can exchange it for other cryptocurrencies or even cash.

Yet before FlyCoin could get off the ground, another startup had to endure turbulence amid the pandemic. L.A.-based FLOAT Shuttle (FLOAT was an acronym for “Fly Over All The Traffic”) had only just launched when lockdowns initially began in 2020; with backing from Jones and other investors, the startup airline intended to fly commuters over clogged Southern California freeways for a monthly subscription starting at $1,250.

But after the coronavirus cleared up the Southland’s notorious traffic for a months-long period, FLOAT had to look for opportunities elsewhere. It found one in the form of a deal to buy the beleaguered Ravn out of bankruptcy, resurrecting the regional airline. (FLOAT now plans to launch a sibling airline called Northern Pacific Airways, which will offer international flights through Anchorage.)

FlyCoin CEO Lenny MoonFlyCoin CEO Lenny MoonCourtesy of FlyCoin

FlyCoin was initially born out of a need to establish a frequent flier program for Ravn. Years earlier, Jones and System1 co-founder Blend had explored launching a crypto-enabled loyalty rewards business—making Ravn an opportunity to breathe life into an old idea, Jones told dot.LA. “We’re not trying to be too crazy—we’re just taking crypto loyalty tokens to airlines, and we have the advantage of having an airline,” he said.

FlyCoin’s ties to Ravn and Northern Pacific give it a vehicle through which it can build momentum for FLY. The startup aims to eventually expand the token’s reward system to other airlines, hotels and hospitality businesses, as well.

Whatever alliances it can form will help FlyCoin stand out in an emerging crypto customer rewards market. While the airline industry has dipped its toes into the blockchain, the scope of its efforts have thus far been limited—though there are ventures like blockchain platform Loyyal’s partnership with Dubai-based airline Emirates. Carriers like Lufthansa and Singapore Airlines have also pursued crypto-related efforts.

Still, the largest airline operators have relatively little incentive to innovate in the space, according to FlyCoin CEO Lenny Moon. The likes of United Airlines and American Airlines have billions of dollars in debt tied to their existing customer rewards programs, and neither company responded to inquiries on whether they plan to develop blockchain-related initiatives.

“They don’t want to disrupt the status quo,” Moon told dot.LA, also criticizing established airlines’ “walled” approach to loyalty rewards and their point expiration dates. “We’re sitting in 2022—now that we have cryptocurrency, why should we have something that is so archaic in terms of the reward system?”

Fuel Innovation: 7 Unforgettable Team Building Experiences in LA
Image Source: Discover LA

In today's competitive business landscape, team building activities have emerged as a crucial tool for fostering a positive work environment, enhancing productivity, and crucially, improving employee retention. Studies have shown that such activities help employees feel valued, with one report indicating that 93% of those who felt appreciated were more motivated at work. Importantly, team building events may improve retention rates, as employees who feel connected to their colleagues and company culture are more likely to stay long-term. With these benefits in mind, let's explore some of the most engaging and effective team building activities available in Los Angeles.

Pickleball

Image Source: Modern Luxury Angelino

Pickleball is a fantastic team bonding activity because of the easy-to-grasp rules and gentle pace make it perfect for everyone, regardless of age or fitness level. The game thrives on communication and teamwork, as players must collaborate and strategize to outplay their opponents, boosting team cohesion. Plus, the lively, fast-paced action sparks friendly competition and laughter, creating a fun and spirited atmosphere that brings everyone closer together. Los Angeles boasts numerous pickleball courts that are easy to rent if you have your own equipment. If you need additional assistance organizing your pickleball outing, there are plenty of full-service companies ready to handle every detail for you.

Resources: Pickle Pop, Corporate Pickle


Escape Room

Image Source: The Escape Game

Escape rooms are a great way to build camaraderie. They require participants to work together, combining their problem-solving skills and creativity to overcome challenges and puzzles. The immersive and time-sensitive nature of escape rooms fosters collaboration and communication. Additionally, the shared experience of tackling complex tasks and reaching a common goal helps build trust and foster positive emotions among colleagues.

Resources: The Escape Game, 60Out


Day Trip to Catalina Island

Image Source: Love Catalina

Catalina Island is a perfect day trip for a team because it provides a break from the usual work environment, allowing team members to relax and connect in a new setting. Shared experiences during the trip, such as exploring new places and participating in fun activities, help build stronger relationships and foster a sense of camaraderie. There are numerous team-building activities such as an arboreal obstacle course, an island tour, scavenger hunts and more.

Resources: Catalina Island Group Activities


Top Golf

Image Source: Topgolf

Topgolf is an excellent team building event because it provides an inclusive, relaxed atmosphere that accommodates players of all skill levels, fostering personal connections and improving team morale. The unique blend of competition and entertainment creates an ideal setting for building trust, enhancing communication, and revealing hidden skills among team members. Additionally, Topgolf offers structured team building packages with guided activities, discussion prompts, and lessons on culture, change, collaboration, and strategy, making it a versatile and effective platform for strengthening relationships and boosting overall team performance.

Resources: Topgolf El Segundo


SoFi Stadium Tour

Image Source: Discover LA

A SoFi Stadium tour offers a unique, behind-the-scenes experience of one of the world's most advanced sports venues, allowing team members to explore exclusive areas like premium suites, team locker rooms, and the player tunnel together. The tour provides a shared, memorable experience that can foster camaraderie and spark conversations among team members, regardless of their interest in sports. Additionally, the stadium's state-of-the-art features and impressive architecture can inspire creativity and innovation, while the group setting encourages interaction and collaboration, making it an engaging and enjoyable activity for teams of various sizes and backgrounds

Resources: SoFi Stadium Group Tours


Corporate Volunteering

Image Source: L.A. Works

Volunteer work serves as an excellent team building activity by uniting employees around a shared, meaningful cause, fostering a sense of purpose and collective accomplishment. It provides opportunities for team members to collaborate in new ways, often revealing hidden strengths and leadership qualities that may not be apparent in the regular work environment. Additionally, engaging in community service can boost morale, enhance the company's reputation, and instill a sense of pride among employees, leading to improved workplace relationships and increased job satisfaction.

Resources: Habitat for Humanity, L.A. Works, VolunteerMatch


Corporate Improv Sessions

Image Source: Improv for the People

A corporate improv class encourages spontaneity, creativity, and quick thinking, skills that are valuable in the workplace. It promotes active listening and collaboration, as participants must work together to create scenes and respond to unexpected situations, fostering better communication and trust among team members. Additionally, the playful and often humorous nature of improv helps break down barriers, reduces stress, and creates a shared positive experience that can improve team morale and cohesion long after the event.

Resources: Improv-LA, Groundlings, Improv for the People

🎬 Paramount and Skydance Are Back On
Image Source: Paramount

Happy Friday Los Angeles! Hope you all had a fantastic Fourth!!

🔦 Spotlight

Paramount and Skydance Media have rekindled talks to merge after negotiations abruptly halted in June. The proposed deal, contingent on approval from Paramount’s board, aims to combine Paramount’s extensive media holdings—including CBS, MTV, and Nickelodeon—with Skydance’s film expertise showcased in hits like "Top Gun: Maverick." This merger signals a potential transformation in the media landscape, positioning the new entity to compete more effectively amid challenges from streaming services and the decline of traditional cable TV.

Led by Shari Redstone, Paramount’s controlling shareholder via National Amusements, the deal represents a pivot towards revitalizing Paramount’s strategic direction amidst financial struggles and shareholder concerns. The involvement of major investors like RedBird Capital Partners and David Ellison underscores the financial backing aimed at stabilizing Paramount’s operations and addressing its $14 billion debt burden. Importantly, the agreement includes provisions to protect National Amusements from potential legal challenges, addressing previous hurdles that stalled earlier negotiations.

The deal also includes a 45-day period for Paramount to explore alternative offers, highlighting continued interest from other potential buyers like Barry Diller’s IAC and media executive Edgar Bronfman Jr. This flurry of activity underscores the significant stakeholders’ interest in Paramount’s future and its potential as a key player in a rapidly evolving media industry.


🤝 Venture Deals

LA Companies

  • Sidecar Health, a startup that offers personalized health insurance plans to businesses that allow members to see any doctor and pay directly at the time of service, raised a $165M Series D led by Koch Disruptive Technologies. - learn more

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