"ExpertFlyer Goes “One-on-One” with Fly.com"
One-on-One with Warren Chang, vice president and general manager, Fly.com
Each month, ExpertFlyer sits down with an executive in the travel industry to provide insight to changes in the landscape and how it affects the way you do business. It's another way ExpertFlyer is providing additional information to empower the business traveler.
This month, ExpertFlyer sat down with Warren Chang who is vice president and general manager of Fly.com, the most comprehensive airfare online search engine. Unlike other online travel agencies, the company is not a booking engine. Instead, Fly.com scours all the major U.S. airlines, international carriers and online travel sites, and helps people easily sort and refine results by specific criteria, and then refers users to the appropriate website for direct booking.
“We’ve only just begun scratching the surface in building a next-generation travel search engine that helps users effortlessly find the best deals for their individual needs. Stay tuned in the second half of 2011 as we plan to unveil many tools and features we’ve been working on behind the scenes.”
-- Warren Chang, vice president and general manager, Fly.com
When parent company, Travelzoo, launched Fly.com in 2009, many wondered how another travel metasearch engine would stand out against similar competitors, like Kayak. How are you standing out today?
Since our launch in February 2009, Fly.com has become a leading flight search engine in the U.S., United Kingdom and Germany. Our success is partially due to the strength of our relationship with Travelzoo, which now has more than 23 million subscribers worldwide. Fly.com provides an easy-to-use flight search engine that enables Travelzoo subscribers—and all of our users—to quickly find and compare cheap flights. Fly.com users benefit from the integration we’ve done to show Travelzoo’s unique, researched, and vetted deals on hotel, car rentals, etc. alongside air search results. The relationship has worked very well, and propelled us into becoming one of the top five flight search engines in the U.S.
Can you explain how you work with Vayama to surface low fares from Alliance Partners, including SkyTeam, Oneworld and Star Alliances and why this is important and unique?
Fly.com works with various online travel agencies (OTAs), including Vayama, to display opaque fares – fares priced so low that OTAs agree with airlines not to display their name until after tickets have been purchased. We categorize the opaque fares based on time of day so that users can find fares that fit their needs. We also categorize them based on airline alliance so those who have a preference can easily choose flights available on their alliance of choice. Fly.com is one of the few search engines that displays opaque fares; it is part of our commitment to find and display the best available fares.
New Meta search upstart, Hipmunk, seems to be getting a lot of press for their new take on the Meta search UI. What do you see as the pros/cons of their approach vs. the Fly.com approach to flight presentation?
Hipmunk has made some noise, which is good for the metasearch space, in that more consumers become educated on the differences between metasearch engines and OTAs. It also helps remind those of us in the space that there are many ways to display search results and to continually innovate. I think their UI works for a segment of the travel population.
Our approach has been consistent since we launched Fly.com. We want to be the most comprehensive search engine and so we chose not to sign an exclusive agreement with Orbitz, which has enabled us to display results from the most airfare providers of any flight search engine in the U.S. We’ve also developed innovative tools such as "fare calendars" that use live data (and not just cached data from user searches) to help users with flexible travel plans find the cheapest days to fly over a wide range of time. Our flight presentation is driven by feedback from our user base.
It seems that hotel search is the next big thing for meta search. Do you see this as another concern for Fly.com or do you think focusing more effort on improving flight search is the way to go?
Despite the strides we’ve made in providing users with helpful features and tools, such as our unique “Summary” tab that displays the best fares from all airlines on one page, baggage fee information that is specific to the route searched and Fly.com’s Low Fare Calendars, there is still a lot of room for improvement in the flight search experience. Your readers will begin to see a lot of the back-end work we’ve been doing with respect to saving users time and money in the second half of 2011.
As for hotel search, we are interested in entering the space and recently integrated dynamically generated flights and hotel search results into Fly.com for major markets. For example, business travelers attending a convention in Las Vegas or leisure travelers taking a family trip to Orlando can now see flights and hotel results above Fly.com’s air search results, providing the ability to quickly compare the best value options for their trip – buying flights and hotels separately, or as a package.
How should one gauge comprehensive flight pricing when searching and booking?
I would suggest that there are three important factors: 1) Did the flight search engine find me the lowest fares that are actually bookable; 2) How many airfare providers did the website search, and how many places can I book the fares; and 3) Did the search engine find results that suit my needs, and do it quickly?
What are practical options for travelers when a travel warning is issued for a destination they plan on visiting and/or have already booked?
First, the traveler should read the statement issued by the U.S. Department of State. Travel alerts and warnings can be found here.
If the traveler decides to change their trip plans, the most practical advice is to consult the airline, travel agency or tour operator with whom they booked their trip. Typically, the travel provider will have instituted policies in regards to postponing or canceling previously booked trips, and the policies are generally favorable—or at least reasonable—for consumers. For example, after the Japanese earthquake, major airlines allowed travelers to rebook their travel for different dates or get a refund without penalty fees. Continental Airlines also waived charges related to fare differences. And with the unrest in the Middle East and North Africa, tour operators and cruise lines instituted similar policies, enabling travelers to apply their spend on a different itinerary, rebook for a later date, or get a refund.
Finally, one other word of advice: register for the State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) when traveling internationally. It’s free, and the State Department website just asks for basic information, such as your passport information and contact information when abroad, so in the event of an emergency, the State Department can contact and/or better assist the traveler.
How will skyrocketing fuel prices continue to affect the airline and business travel industry?
Despite the very recent dip in jet fuel prices, jet fuel is still 50 percent more expensive now than one year ago today. Airlines have responded with all the tools in their arsenal, including raising fuel surcharges and cutting capacity. The net result for consumers, as I’m sure many of your readers have seen, is higher ticket prices and very full planes. It’s rare to find empty seats on planes flying popular routes, which also means fewer opportunities to get an upgrade.