UpLift is the latest Silicon Valley startup seeking to peel off a slice of the $1 trillion credit card market.
The firm is partnering with large travel companies to offer 12-month loans to consumers who are booking vacations online. On Thursday, UpLift announced deals with Golden Nugget, which operates hotels and casinos in four states, as well as the company that offers travel packages for Southwest Airlines and United Airlines.
Visitors to those travel brands' websites will have the option to pay monthly through an UpLift loan, rather than by paying with a credit card or debit card.
The basic idea is that for vacation packages that cost several thousand dollars, some consumers would rather take out an installment loan than pay what might be a higher interest rate on their credit card. Other consumers may not be too close to their credit limit to book a trip using plastic.
Brian Barth, UpLift's chief executive officer, is pitching travel companies on the notion that offering its 12-month loans, in addition to the option of paying with a debit or credit card, will lead more online shoppers to make purchases.
"You see tons of searches for Hawaii," he said. "And then they see it's three grand, and they close the browser."
The travel companies will get a share of the profits from the loans. UpLift plans to compete for borrowers by paying its customers the points they would have received if they'd made the purchase on their airline-branded credit card.
Meanwhile, UpLift will sell the loans to investors, mimicking, at least to some extent, the model used by Lending Club and other marketplace lenders.
UpLift also plans to charge similar interest rates as companies like Lending Club, with borrowers being graded based on measures of their creditworthiness.
The Sunnyvale, Calif.-based startup has one important advantage over much of the existing crop of online lenders – it will not have to pay to acquire customers, which is often a substantial expense, because its customers will already be poised to make purchases.
"We believe we're actually going to be able to capture about 10% of the volume for most of these sites," Barth said.
Barth and Stu Kelly, the co-founders of UpLift, know the travel industry well. The travel search aggregation site Kayak bought their first startup in 2007.