All posts in One-on-One

One-on-One with Matteo Sarzana, Founder and CEO of Avionerd

This month, ExpertFlyer talks with Matteo Sarzana, Founder and CEO of Avionerd, an interesting and soon-to-be-released travel app that relies – literally – on the kindness of traveling strangers. Sarzana explains how – and why – elite frequent flyers can share their status privileges with the rest of us.

matteo sarzana avionerd“Our goal is to connect frequent flyers with normal flyers and have the frequent flyers share their status privileges with them.”

– Matteo Sarzana, Founder and CEO of Avionerd

Since Avionerd isn’t even available yet, can you give our readers an overview of what this app is designed to do?

Avionerd is a mobile app which will help everyone fly in a better way. Our goal is to connect frequent flyers with average flyers and have the frequent flyers share their status privileges with them.

There’s nothing like it on the market today and we’re sure it’ll be a killer opportunity for both travellers and airline companies.

How exactly does an elite status flyer pass on perks, like Lounge Access, Priority Checkin, Priority Boarding & Upgrade to a stranger booked on the same flight?

The baseline is that the app connects people on the same flight to share frequent flyer privileges.

Once you attain frequent flyer status, you’re allowed to share your privileges with another companion or your family. Avionerd is putting this under-utilized opportunity to more use by linking a frequent flyer solo traveler with a non-frequent flyer to let him or her experience the perks.

The app will let you know, with a push notification, of the possibility to get in touch with the frequent flyer and connect to organize the meeting or the other way around. We like to call this “sharing economy for the airline industry.”

The mechanism is pretty straightforward. Users sign up and create a profile inserting their frequent flyer information, if they have it, or they can skip this step. They then input their flight information and if on one of the flights there’s someone willing to share their privileges and someone without them, the users will be connected.

After the flight, they will be prompted to share their feedback and points are awarded based on the actions and privileges shared. Users will also be able to see their friends’ activities and search for flights with the most people willing to share their privileges.

Have you piloted or test marketed the app?  What makes you think that frequent flyers will be open to sharing their privileges with complete strangers?  What’s in it for them?

After a lot of research, we know there are no competitors at the moment. The closest thing is the Flight Connect page at FlyerTalk where people post their flight schedule to try to connect.

Market research also tells us that frequent flyers spend an average 18 percent more when buying tickets to stay with one airline for the frequent flyer miles and privileges. Proving to airlines that Avionerd is a marketing tool for them when normal flyers experience frequent flyer perks will be the key success factor to involve them in the project.

There are three main reasons we think frequent flyers will want to share their privileges:

1- To meet new, interesting people.

2- To be the one getting the privileges when they are not able to fly with the airline they have status with. Sort of a karma situation when a Delta Platinum is forced to fly American Airlines.

3- Be part of a global community, and in the future, be able to get even more airline miles.

How do you think the airlines will react to this? Airlines haven’t always looked kindly on those that try to game the system. Do you expect push-back from them?

I don’t think airlines will push back on Avionerd. We think the airline industry will see our app as a marketing opportunity to educate more consumers about the benefits of becoming frequent flyers.  Turning a typical flyer into a loyal frequent flyer means more money in the long run; our research tells us that frequent flyers spend up to 18% more to fly with the airline they have status with.

Also, every airline frequent flyer program offers companion sharing benefits. If an airline changes this rule, people will switch to a different program. Here are some key reasons we believe the airline industry will be interested in the app:

- Frequent flyers are a minority of the people who fly each year

- Frequent flyers usually spend 18% more than people without a status to keep flying with the airline they have status with

- We believe airlines are not exploiting the opportunity of educating more people about the benefits of being a FF, thus they are not leveraging the marketing opportunity

- Educating more people about the FF privileges could lead more people to sign up for FF awards programs, thus making them high spending people

- If airlines can understand that, they should be happy we are actually doing the work for them.

You also employ a points system for users who offer feedback based on their experience.  How are points earned and what rewards do flyers gain them for?

For each action performed by users, such as priority boarding, lounge access or upgrade, there will be a score awarded to them. In the beginning, points will be aggregated in a global ranking. We’re working with partners to give users the chance to convert their aviopoints into airline miles.

How soon can travelers expect to find Avionerd available for iOS and Android mobile platforms?

We are planning to submit the app to apple for approval by end of April. If successful, we’ll start working on the Android version.

 

One-on-One with Bob Diener, Co-Founder of Hotels.com & Getaroom.com

This month, ExpertFlyer talks with Bob Diener, Co-Founder of Hotels.com & GetaRoom.com.  Bob Diener has been a pioneer in the hotel consolidation and online travel industry for more than 25 years. In 1984, Diener and his college classmate, David Litman, began a career in the airline consolidation business. The two later founded Hotel Reservations Network, now known as Hotels.com, in 1991. Diener talks to ExpertFlyer about his latest venture as President and Co-Founder of the online travel site, www.getaroom.com, a resource specializing in the best hotel rooms at the best values.

bob diener, getaroom.com “We are more of a niche site, but we are growing at triple digit rates because consumers want value and we figured out how to deliver that.”

– Bob Diener, Co-Founder of Hotels.com & GetaRoom.com

There are many hotel booking sites in the marketplace offering “best hotel rooms for the best value,” including your former company, Hotels.com, and newer contenders, like Room77com.  Describe what getaroom.com is all about and what is the unique value-add that the service offers travelers?

We are the only company that offers unpublished rates which are typically 10-20% off and as much as 60% off the lowest rates online. We have over 25,000 hotels participating. The hotels give us lower rates than they offer direct or offer anyone else – and they are only available by contacting our call center at 1-800-468-3578 (1-800-HOTELS8).

We also offer a large number of flash sales daily. Flash sales are special sales for limited periods of time typically up to 48 hours. You must book the hotel within the flash sale booking window but can usually stay whenever you want. The discounts are usually 10-60% off the lowest online rate. This causes consumers to make a decision quickly to take advantage of the deal and fills a large percentage of the hotel rapidly.

 

Your home page prompts visitors who “want a better deal” to call for “secret unpublished rates.” Can you elaborate on that and why you would you want to move customers away from your website to a call center?

90% of the interaction is done online. Hotel comparison shopping, view amenities, descriptions, user comments, maps, directions. They only call us to get the lower unpublished rate.

Since being acquired in 2001, Hotels.com has become part of the largest online travel company in the world.  Do you think you have the right mix of features and market demand in getaroom.com to create another Hotels.com?

We are more of a niche site, but we are growing at triple digit rates because consumers want value and we figured out how to deliver that.

Is getaroom.com essentially a hotel room consolidation business?  Are your relationships with vacation properties unique? What’s different or exclusive about your inventory?

We are a consolidator. Some of our relationships are unique. For example, we have properties, such as the Luxury Suites at the Signature MGM in Las Vegas, where we offer large deluxe suites on the Las Vegas Strip from $79 a night through a special block of rooms within the property. We have properties like this in many major destinations.

There’s a growing trend and demand among dollar conscious travelers who are opting for lower-cost rental accommodations in residential homes and apartments.  Sites like www.airbnb.com and www.homeaway.com have surged in popularity over the past few years.  How are you competing with these options?

We now offer “shared bath” accommodations at great properties like the Jane and Pod in New York with rooms typically close to $100 a night even during the busy season. These are trendy, popular and well run hotels in central areas that either have part or the entire hotel set up with a hallway bathroom for several units, similar to a B&B. Rates can be as much as 80% less than the same hotel room with a bath, just without the bath in the room.

What other exciting developments can we look forward to from getaroom.com over the next year?

We are adding destinations at a fast pace. We are almost up to 100,000 hotels, resorts and vacation rentals worldwide and will continue to add. We are also expanding the hotels participating on both our unpublished rate program and our flash sale program. We will continue to innovate to find special values for consumers.

 

One-on-One with MikelParis, professional artist, keyboardist with the rock band, O.A.R. and creator of “TuneTrek”

MikelParis, "TuneTrek"

 

In this month’s One-on-One blog, ExpertFlyer talks with MikelParis, best known as a keyboardist for the popular rock band O.A.R., about some things you may not know. Aside from performing in the long-running off Broadway production, “Stomp,” MikelParis is the creator of a unique travel series called “TuneTrek.” We asked Paris to tell us about that project, as well as what’s on the horizon.

 

I love that feeling of discovering a place for the first time.  The project also motivates me to get out of the hotel or off the tour bus to see and experience the places that I’m visiting.

– MikelParis, Musician, Artist & Creator of the Travel Series, “TuneTrek”

Our readers may be wondering why ExpertFlyer is featuring a Q&A with a rockstar from O.A.R., so let’s kick things off with your “TuneTrek” project.  Tell us about this unusual travel video series and how you got started with it.

TuneTrek is a travel and music show where I find interesting historic landmarks or scenic vistas and tell the story of each site through pictures, video and music.  I’ve got a guitar on my back and camera bag on my front and I’ve filmed 25 episodes, so far, and released eight.  The idea came out of my love of traveling, exploring, nature, architecture, and of course music.   I love that feeling of discovering a place for the first time.  The project also motivates me to get out of the hotel or off the tour bus to see and experience the places that I’m visiting, while traveling the world playing music.  Each 5-7 minute episode gives a little history and shows the journey of my discovery of the site.  I find a good acoustic and visual spot to perform some songs and feature one of the songs at the end of the episode.  The rest of the music I use to underscore each episode.   I do everything on my own in this project:  Researching and advancing each location; setting up camera angles; interviewing the local Docent or historian; creating the story board; editing the video; and mastering the music. I’ve been forced to learn a lot about editing.  I use Protools 10 to master the music, Adobe Premier to edit the Video, Pentax cameras for visual content, and the Zoom H4N for live audio. You can watch the episodes at http://www.mikelparis.com/#!tunetrek/czaf. Continue reading →

One-on-One with Michael Salem, author of “Brave Flyer – How to End Your Fear of Flying”

In this month’s One-on-One blog, ExpertFlyer talks with Michael Salem, the author of “Brave Flyer – How to End Your Fear of Flying.”

For years, Michael Salem counted himself among the ranks of petrified flyers. Unable to get on a plane, Michael counted many a missed opportunity, both personal and professional, which led to his search for a solution that would end his fear of flying.  His book is a culmination of research, self-exploration, experimentation and results.  Michael not only overcame his fear of flying, he is now an expert in helping others through his unconventional proven methods.  In this post, Michael shares his techniques to help fearful flyers overcome their phobia and join the friendly skies.

michael salem“From my research, I have learned that most fearful flyers are not overly concerned with the possibility of an airline accident. This is exactly why statistics that tell you how driving a car is more dangerous than being on a plane or how well planes are engineered, will do little to calm your fears.”

– Michael Salem, author of “Brave Flyer”

There are scores of experts and as many books touting remedies for fearful flyers.  What’s different about your book?

I am certain there are great books in the market and I appreciate all of them, but unfortunately many of them address the fear of flying phobia from an airline safety point of view, and most of them are written by people who do not suffer from this fear to begin with. The Brave Flyer book addresses this matter from the fearful flyer point of view. It talks very little about airline safety statistics, and goes into the details of the fearful flyer state of mind. It is the first book that I am aware of that speaks directly to the victim’s actual concerns and fears, and written by someone who feared flying for many years and overcame that fear.

How did you go about conquering your own fear of flying – how long did it take and what was your biggest “aha” moment in the process?

It took me roughly four years to conquer it. I wish I had a Brave Flyer book in my hand at that time; I could have done it in a few short weeks, if not days. I conquered my fear of flying when the ‘aha’ moment finally happened. This is the moment I came to realize that fear of flying is not a stand-alone phobia; it was actually only a front-end to one or more fears hidden in its shadows. Think of fear of flying as a symptom of a disease, if you cough, in reality your cough medicine is healing what is causing the cough (allergy, lungs, etc.), and not the actual expulsion of the air out of your mouth. The same applies to fear of flying; it is only a name of a symptom, addressing it as a stand-alone will not resolve the issue, as the underlying root causes are still strong at work. Addressing the root cause (fear factors) behind it is the trick. Continue reading →

One-on-One with Kevin Weiss, CEO of Xhibit Corp., & SkyMall

In this month’s One-on-One blog, ExpertFlyer talks with Kevin Weiss, the new Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Xhibit Corp., as of May 2013, after the merger of SkyMall and Xhibit Corp. We talked to Kevin about his new role and what his plans are – particularly over the holiday season – for the company’s famous inflight catalog, SkyMall. The popular publication is distributed in airplane seat pockets and seen by approximately 650 million air travelers annually – that’s nearly 88% of all domestic air passengers.

Founded in 1990, SkyMall is known for offering a unique curation of over 30,000 products for the Home, Health, Pets, Office, Fashion, Gifts and more.  Skymall is giving all ExpertFlyer Facebook fans a special 20% discount  through 12/31/13 when they enter ExpertFlyer’s Facebook Contest Giveaway here: http://a.pgtb.me/DzK6vt.

Kevin Weiss, CEO Xhibit Corp and Skymall

SkyMall is more than just a catalog in the airline seat pocket.

– Kevin Weiss, CEO, Xhibit Corp.

Congratulations on your new role as Xhibit and SkyMall’s Chief Executive Officer.  Can you talk a little bit about the merger and how it will affect SkyMall, as well as how the catalog is evolving, especially in today’s digitally-oriented marketplace? Is SkyMall’s niche simply tied to its unique distribution advantage or is there more?

Let me answer the last question first.  SkyMall’s niche is really about cool products.   Many of the products are quirky and innovative. The thing that I like about the collection it that it is generally merchandise that people don’t normally think about.

When we think about the shift taking place to digitally-oriented marketplaces, we get very excited. Today, over 80% of our sales take place on our newly-implemented website. The merger with Xhibit will enable us to enhance our new platform that we launched in September with video, games and apps for smart phones. All of this is being done to enhance the customer’s shopping and buying experience.  While we continue to see great value in our in-flight printed catalog,   we believe that the explosion of Wi-Fi on planes will create even more buying opportunities for fliers.  As an added bonus, several airlines now allow passengers to go to SkyMall.com without being charged a Wi-Fi access fee.

Who are your best customers – who is purchasing from SkyMall on a regular basis and now that Wi-Fi is allowed inflight how will that impact sales when SkyMall customers can easily access online competitors, like Amazon.com and other Internet retailers?

Our best customers are frequent travelers who adapt well to new technology and enjoy unique products.

As I said before, we see in-flight Wi-Fi as a great benefit to our business.  If you think about the “olden days,” people had to see the catalog in-flight, decide they wanted to buy something, either take the catalog with them or write down the item, get to their destination, remember that they were interested in a cool product, and THEN either call us or go online to buy it.  Today, with the Wi-Fi on the plane, we’re just a click away.  It really has made it much easier for customers to place orders with us.

In general, what type of products do people seem to buy more of from SkyMall?

Best selling products change based on the time of year. Right now, the NFL Wine Shoe Holders are a hot item.

How does SkyMall’s pricing compare to online outlets and stores?

SkyMall has a Price Guarantee.  Everything at SkyMall is offered at the same prices you’d find in the original manufacturer’s catalog. There’s no additional markup.

The holidays are upon us again, what will be your top-selling items this Christmas and Hanukkah?

Once again the SkyMall Holiday Catalog is full of great holiday ideas for decorating, entertaining and gift giving!  Some of the early favorites include My Adventures Books, the sippy wine glass and Campus Letter Art.  Have you seen the Harry Potter Remote Control Wand? Another great SkyMall gift for someone who has ALMOST everything!

Can you give our readers some tips on how to shop SkyMall and any special deals or promotions they can take advantage of in time for the gift-giving season?

The best way to know what’s going on at SkyMall is to subscribe to our exclusive SkyMall Offers email at SkyMall.com.  We are also happy to offer all ExpertFlyer Facebook fans a special 20% discount  through 12/31/13 when they enter ExpertFlyer’s Facebook Contest Giveaway here: http://a.pgtb.me/DzK6vt.  Unique coupon code and link will be visible upon entering the sweepstakes.

Starting 11/15/13 through 12/9/13, we are running a 25 Days of Cool Giveaways sweepstakes where we are giving a cool product away every day and a grand prize $1,000 SkyMall Shopping Spree.  Participants can enter at skymall.com/25Days.

What’s your vision for SkyMall over the next 3-5 years?  Any pivotal changes on the horizon?  How is mobile and social media playing a part in SkyMall’s marketing and customer service efforts?

Our new website was the first real change we have made in a few years. It is already serving our customers and partners well. We are now in the process of designing new apps that will run across most smart phones. We want to make the interaction with SkyMall fun and rewarding. As we expand our marketing reach, you will see us invest in video and image recognition technology to allow customers to interact with the catalog through their smart phones – even down to the purchase of products. Finally, you should expect us to seek opportunities for international expansion. It is a very exciting time to be at SkyMall.