We are a fleshing out an idea for a language learning startup. One key component of our business model could be offering loyalty/rewards points to our users for airline travel. However, a quick search on the number of airline loyalty programs makes the task of creating channels seem unreasonable for a team of two with tech/marketing skill but lacking business development experience.
1. Is there a central marketplace/broker where we can buy points that we can offer to our users?
2. In general how possible is it that we'd be able to create partnerships with at least a few initial airlines?
I'd advocate determining exactly how many of your potential users are high-affinity travelers and where on their spectrum of import airline miles lie. For some, they'll have plenty of mileage accounts, but they don't travel often. For others who travel a lot, they may already have so many points that small increments won't matter, so you'll need big purchasing power to get lots of points for them to feel it's worthwhile.
If you determine travel reward points are super important to your customers, then determine whether it's super important to your business model, or whether it can be a "Phase 2" or "Phase 3" step. From the phrasing of your question seems like you've got a lot going on.
Next up, I'd call your credit card reward program and other types of businesses who are likely already aggregating travel reward point programs and ask for their sales or B2B department. Ask and try! I'm sure there's a service out there who just does this for a living.
Lastly, identify which airlines or destinations your customers use most often. If your niche is business travelers going to Charlotte or anywhere in NC, then US Airways might be the place to start, since that's their second largest hub.
Call me and we can talk more about developing a successful strategy that will optimize your return without tapping your resources.