Amy Gavagnin of Loyalty & Reward Co has written a great overview of loyalty ecosystems and the benefits they offer over loyalty programs. The key difference is that a loyalty system generally focuses on offering benefits just from the brand hosting the program, while a loyalty ecosystem offers a wide range of benefits that go far beyond the brand itself.
Loyalty ecosystems aren’t a new concept — they go back to the early 1900s with United Cigar Store coupon programs and stamp-based programs like the S&P Green Stamps. Even today’s airline and hotels programs have been offering prizes beyond rooms and flights for some time now. But the article does a great job of differentiating loyalty programs vs. loyalty ecosystems, and calls out several features that ecosystems have that systems do not.