Archive for December, 2017

Could pilotless air travel be the way of the future?

ExpertFlyer Hot Topics — Where the Rubber Meets the Runway

pilotless air travel

Tech news outlet, TNW, ponders the advancement of pilotless flight in a recent post, but many questions concerning the practicality, safety and travelers’ trepidations may keep pilots snugly in their cockpit.

Perhaps we should see how the evolution of driverless cars develops as a potential bellwether for air travel. The Atlantic reports on another new monetization layer to this innovation that features free transportation — with a catch. According to the post, passengers may summon a car and travel for nothing—that is, so long as they are willing to make a stop or two en route at sponsoring locations.

“Autonomous cars will be part of an ecosystem of intelligent agents and personal-data vendors. The information they are able to base your route on—and how they present an itinerary to you—will not be limited to where you say you want to go, but on all the data they have about you. Note that companies with immense personal-data collections, including AmazonBaiduGoogle, and Uber, are in the race to develop autonomous cars.”

According to a report by Business Insider, a study conducted by UBS found that 54% of the 8,000 people surveyed by the firm said they would be unlikely to take a pilotless flight. According to UBS, the four groups least likely to board a pilotless plane were students and unemployed people, nervous flyers or those concerned with aviation safety, those who book travel over the phone, and women.

 

Did you know…5 unexpected ways to earn bonus points?

frugal travel guy logoFrugal Travel Guy blogger, Anya Kartashova, recounts five unexpected methods she used to earn air and hotel travel bonus points in 2017.  Here are a few of her bonus building gems:

  • Enroll your American Express card in their Pay Over Time feature and earn an easy 10,000 Membership Rewards points.
  • Look for award point opportunities with Chase. This fall, they ran a promo for Sapphire-branded credit cards, like Chase Sapphire Preferred, where you could earn an extra point for every transaction paid via a digital-wallet app, such as Apple Pay, Android Pay, Chase Pay and Samsung Pay.
  • Marriott Rewards NFL Promo — Marriott Rewards has partnered with the National Football League and asks football fans trivia questions on Twitter almost every Sunday during the NFL season. Questions range from “How wide is an NFL football field?” to “How many players can each NFL team have on the field?” Every correct answer equals to 1,000 Marriott Rewards points!

    Read more at: 5 Unexpected Ways I’ve Earned Bonus Points This Year | Frugal Travel Guy

 

 

 

Taking consumer air travel back to Mach 2

ExpertFlyer Hot Topics — Where the Rubber Meets the Runway

Taking consumer air travel back to the supersonic era and speed of the Concorde — and beyond — is what Boom has in store for business class flyers over the next five years.  Not only that, in an interview with Boom founder and CEO, Blake Scholl, the company expects that carriers will be able to offer prices competitive with today’s subsonic business-class tickets—about $5,000 for a round-trip transatlantic flight.

Blake Scholl, president, Boom

Blake Scholl, founder and CEO, Boom

Tell us about Boom and how you are planning to bring back supersonic flight to consumer air travelers?

In the first few decades of commercial flight, long-distance travel became steadily faster and more accessible. Ocean liners gave way to piston-powered flying boats, which were then replaced by jet aircraft. But today, commercial airplanes aren’t flying any faster than they were in 1958—the Concorde era has come and gone. With its Mach-2.2 airliner, Boom is putting society back on the path of rapid technological progress that brought us great improvements in the speed and convenience of travel.

For carriers, Boom’s 55-passenger, all-business-class product is an attractive alternative to the status quo. Our supersonic airliner will take you across the world in half the time at fares similar to a subsonic business-class ticket. Not only do you save time, but you’re able to make trips that would have been prohibitively long on a subsonic jet.

When will consumers be able to avail of your services?

Our XB-1 supersonic demonstrator is slated to fly in 2018, and Boom’s airliner is expected to begin serving passengers in 2023.
What will your initial routing look like and what will fares range from?

There are over 500 routes worldwide capable of supporting supersonic service, and transoceanic travel will become much more convenient on Boom’s airliner. At Mach 2.2, a trip from San Francisco to Tokyo shrinks from 11 hours to 5.5. Getting from LA to Sydney, currently, an arduous 15-hour journey will be flown in under 7.

Fare setting will be up to the airlines, but we expect that carriers will be able to offer prices competitive with today’s subsonic business-class tickets—about $5,000 for a round-trip transatlantic flight.

Talk about the short-term and long-term future of consumer air travel from a technology aviation standpoint?

Today’s airlines only compete with each other in a few dimensions—ticket price, quality of service, and comfort. Because all existing jet aircraft take people from point A to point B in roughly the same amount of time, there is little differentiability apart from offering more leg room, better food, or cheaper seats. An airline with access to a substantially faster model of aircraft would be able to radically differentiate itself from the rest of the industry. We aim to jumpstart a renaissance in travel where affordable supersonic flight is the norm.

We believe the long-term future of air travel will be one where anyone can get anywhere on Earth in only a few hours for dirt cheap prices. Affordable ultra-fast travel will change everything. The whole planet will become like one big city. There will be no more long-distance relationships or loved ones you only see once a year. We will simply all be here on Earth together.

Will supersonic flight be a mainstream expectation in the not too distant future?

Currently, we’re building a Mach-2.2 commercial airplane that can operate profitably at a ticket price similar to subsonic business-class fares, but our work doesn’t end when Boom’s first airliner flies. In the future, we’re going to leverage our success to make commercial supersonic travel even more affordable and accessible. Ultimately, we want the fastest ticket to be the cheapest ticket.

Did you know…Air Travel Fairness urges US DOT to halt approval of airline antitrust immunity without new consumer protection?

air travel fairnessAir Travel Fairness, one of the largest traveler advocacy organizations in the U.S., called on the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to reject any applications from airlines for either new or expanded antitrust immunity (ATI) agreements between carriers without first instituting new protections from the harm these schemes are causing consumers.

Airlines with antitrust immunity are able to freely cooperate between each other on fares, schedules, fleets, marketing programs and operations.  Essentially, these mega-joint ventures operate as if they are a single, giant airline.

For example, once approved for antitrust immunity, two airlines that previously competed against each other for travelers’ business, perhaps offering the only nonstop flights on a given route, behave as if they are one company. The two airlines can share costs and revenues on flights, set prices including minimum fares offered on each of their flights, reduce capacity if too many low-priced seats are offered, or do away with the type of bonus and discount programs offered to frequent flyer program members when two or more airlines are vigorously competing for travelers’ business in a truly competitive market. The airlines might call this efficiencies of scale, but consumers are the big losers.

The consumer impact is the same as when a market with two competitors changes to only having one. Two airlines, in this case, essentially merge into one, but there is no change in ownership. Continue reading →

2018 Travel Technology Trends

The annual Phocuswright Conference took place last month and for travel, tourism, and hospitality industry professionals, the show serves as a bellwether for tech trends across all key travel segments. We conducted a post-show interview with Phocuswright research analyst, Alice Jong, to discuss the hot topics and opportunities for 2018 that created buzz at the show.

WATCH our video interview with Alice Jong, Phocuswright research analyst

ExpertFlyer: Give us a high-level description of what Phocuswright is and the purpose of the conference?

Alice Jong: We are a travel market research company and we focus on anything related to travel distribution and technology. The U.S. conference is our largest event where we gather the biggest ideas and the biggest opinions in the travel industry, and present them on stage to share trends and things to watch out for. We cover all the segments in travel … it’s a great opportunity for attendees to not only gain knowledge about what’s happening in the travel industry, technology and innovation, but also make connections with the biggest minds in this space.

EF: There were a number of highlights that came out of the show, one of which was the popularity of tours and activities and its impact on search and booking technology. How is this segment evolving?

AJ: It’s actually a big study that I worked on directly so I’m quite passionate about this segment. Essentially, so much of tours and activities — the things that you do once you’re in the destination — whether it’s going on a walking tour or participating in a cooking class or going scuba diving, much of that is still transacted offline. Travelers tend to book these activities very last minute in destination – with many actually walking up to the ticket booth or into the shop to purchase the experience in person. But there’s been a big shift where all of this is moving online now. So, think about how hotels and airlines are online.  You can easily compare options, whether it’s on a metasearch site or on an OTA like Expedia. That’s starting to happen for tours and activities now. Bike tours were among the first to do this in a big way, but in recent years, many more startups are getting on board, so platforms like “Get Your Guide” are surfacing and they’re aggregating all these activities that you can do and putting them online where travelers can easily research activities by category and then book them from a computer or mobile device.

Many of these activities and experiences tend to be operated by small “Mom and Pop” shops, but there are new technology platforms now that are being created that cater to these smaller players enabling them to basically digitize their inventory. So, once the supply is digitized, then the consumer can also book it digitally and it’s really gaining momentum, such that even the biggest travel players are now seeing a lot of potential in the tours and activities space.

The first time we did a study related to activities was back in around 2011, so just over six years ago and around that time the biggest players were lukewarm about tours and activities. Since then, brands like Expedia, TripAdvisor, Airbnb, and Booking.com, are all looking to add tours and activities into their online platform.  As a result, it’s going to be easier for travelers to research activities they are interested in, compare what they want to do and then book it directly online. With more than 80% of the activities marketplace still offline, this category is expected to grow quickly based on the demands of travelers and their online search and booking expectations.

EF: What are some of the sites that are fulfilling this travel niche search now?

AJ: Some of the biggest or well-known brands, Expedia, has a local expert now and they’ve actually integrated that into their mobile platform, as well. Airbnb launched Experiences last year, so more focus on that local experience in the destination. TripAdvisor, after acquiring Viator, one of the largest online tours and activities booking agencies, started integrating bookable content onto TripAdvisor. So, travelers may now directly book those activities from TripAdvisor. Some of the other examples are Get Your Guide, which is one of the larger global platforms, and others with a regional spin, like Newman Tours specializing in Asia, as well as Klook, and Be My Guest. In India, you have options, like Make My Trip and Clear Trip. There is a good deal starting regionally, which indicates a lot of opportunities to grow. It’s very exciting to see where these players are going to take this and keep growing the inventory.

EF: There was some talk about the impact of artificial intelligence and voice recognition associated with travel search and sourcing. What’s on the horizon?

AJ: This technology is still quite new. We’re in our infancy with this and many of the biggest online players are exploring possibilities and options. They’re looking at chat, they’re looking at voice, and they’re looking to see how they combine a mix of A.I. chatbox with human interaction to find that right balance. Many of them are analyzing and testing what they can do with customer service inquiries. Expedia has been experimenting with Facebook Messenger and earlier this year they rolled out a Facebook Messenger booking capability for Hotels.com. Kayak has been looking at Alexa capabilities, so they’re all dabbling and they’re trying to see what the possibilities are, but so far what we are hearing from them is it’s still new and they are exploring the early stage capabilities.

Over in Asia, China’s biggest OTA, Ctrip, is using A.I. customer service chatbox to handle many of their customer inquiries. Make My Trip in India also rolled out chat-based online booking for their packaging business. So, we see different players exploring different routes but ultimately it’s like finding that right balance that makes things easier and more personalized for the customer.

We saw in our travel technology survey that in the U.S. about half of online travelers now use some kind of voice assistant in their everyday life. In terms of travel though, it’s most advantageous future usage is still developing. Companies are looking at opportunities starting with customer service for now and they’re considering how the technology will play out in terms of shopping and booking stages.

EF: Let’s talk about loyalty and loyalty programs. It was interesting to see some data on customer loyalty and membership programs. According to your analysis, membership to a loyalty program doesn’t necessarily mean a customer is all that loyal. What do you think is coming down the pike in terms of airline and hotel rewards programs? Are we ripe for reinvention in this space?

AJ: Well, for both air and hotels in general, we’re definitely seeing that loyalty programs don’t mean loyalty necessarily. And what we’ve seen in our studies is that loyalty programs aren’t deal-makers for the traveler either. Overall, they aren’t making their final booking decision based on a loyalty program. In fact, for air, we see that the majority of travelers belong to either multiple loyalty programs or none at all. So the share of travelers that belong to just one is the minority. And further to that, we also find that they’re willing to book with an airline outside of their loyalty program if it means a better price or schedule. So that’s what’s really driving those purchases. On top of that, air travelers’ loyalty greatly depends on their home base location. If you’re based in Atlanta, Delta’s probably going to be your preferred airline. So much of it is based on these variables that aren’t necessarily about loyalty. It’s about the commodity and what’s available and what’s most convenient and priced right for your budget.

It’s been fascinating to see how Airbnb has been able to build this brand affinity with its user base where people keep coming back and reusing again and again – and they don’t have an official loyalty program. With the airlines, especially in the U.S., there are a set number of carriers you can fly on. If there’s the option of a $100 flight versus a $600 flight and the schedule’s pretty close, you’re probably going to go with the $100 flight rather than trying to get 500 extra points on your frequent flyer program. So, I think for loyalty, what we’re looking for is who is going be able to find a way to differentiate their brand through some kind of deeper connection, not just by offering these perks because the loyalty program and frequent flyer miles are no longer differentiating brands.