The disruption and democratisation of air travel by tech continues apace no doubt to the delight of passengers, who may not be casting such envious glances at first class and business travel flyers for much longer, as airlines acknowledge that digital services can transform the customer experience in a good way.
A new Sydney based startup, Seatfrog, that will allow passengers to bid for seat and ticket upgrades via auction, has just completed a USD $862k fundraise, led by London based Howzat Partners.
Although the Seatfrog service remains in beta, when it goes live later this year the app will ask passengers to scan in their flight details using a QR code at any point from when they first purchase the ticket to just before take-off. The app will then inform the passenger what upgrades are available, and the start and end times of the auction.
The app will also provide a “buy now” function which will allow passengers to upgrade at full price, but the difference between that price and the current auction price may entice passengers to choose to take the plunge and try out business or first class, or simply find a seat with a touch more legroom.
Seatfrog is the brainchild of 3 lanky Australian businessmen, Iain Griffin, Ben Ient and Dirk Stewart, whose height often causes them to think of upgrading when they can.
“Somehow upgrading has become this really complicated and fragmented process that just isn’t designed to make passenger’s lives easy in terms of understanding how they behave, when they start thinking about upgrades what device they’re on, and making that process really seamless”, says Griffin.
What’s good for the goose is also good for the gander – Griffin says that “for airlines, ancillaries are currently estimated to be worth around $60 billion dollars.”
If a passenger does decide to upgrade and bids successfully, the new boarding pass is delivered to their phone and can be scanned digitally at the departure gate. Frequent flyers will be offered the opportunity to upgrade first, before they are thrown open to the floor.
Development on the back-end technology began in 2014 and the founder’s say that airlines who sign up to the service will be able to “go live” within 48 hours, although at this point they are not revealing which ones have signed up.
The Howzat Partners team includes those with experience of online travel services, such as Dusseldorf based Trivago (which Howzat Media helped back to the tune of $1.14m and has since sold to Expedia in a deal worth $630m) and travel booking site Cheapflights, based in London but part of Momondo Group, which Cheapflights acquired and subsequently rebranded as, founded and still headquartered in Copenhagen, Denmark.
Howzat Partners is co-founded by ex-property investor Hugo Burge, part of the investment group that bought CheapFlights in 2000, and ex-corporate financier David Soskin. Both have served as CEO of Cheapflights; Soskin from 2000-2008, helping grow the company into a globally recognised brand, and Burge from 2011 until the present day. Soskin also sits on the boards of mysupermarket.com and Cortexica Vision Systems, of which he is Chairman.
Cheapflights raised $80m from Boston based VC Great Hill Partners in 2014, and recorded more than 500k users across its sites in a single day in January earlier this year.
Seatfrog has also added Simon Hickey to its advisory board. Hickey is a former CEO of Qantas International and says: “Seatfrog is undeniably ahead of the curve. It not only delivers an exceptional mobile passenger experience but it is a smart solution to the challenges of merchandising facing airlines, enabling real-time upgrades of ticket bookings right up to the departure gate.”
That should certainly help to liven up the normally tedious waiting period between checking in for a flight and boarding. The question is, will the app reveal the identity of fellow passengers who beat you to the punch and bag the most favourable upgrades for themselves? And is it possible that competition for the best seats may even drive the auction price above the original asking price?
That’s democracy for you!