Tag Archives: travel

TripIt and Dopplr – A Match (which could be) Made in Heaven

17 Apr

TripItI was recently introduced to TripIt, a “next generation” travel site which has really impressed me in my first day as a user. It replaces Dopplr (which I have used for approximately four months now) as my favorite startup travel destination on the web for two major reasons: its superior input methodology and the practical usefulness of the site’s main service: itinerary aggregation.

While these sites are clearly competitors, I think they might find that if a collaboration agreement could be reached, the sum would be greater than the parts.

Primary Functionality:

Dopplr LogoIf you were to ask me what Dopplr’s primary purpose was – its raison d’être – I would say creating community around travel, particularly for frequent travelers. It notifies me when I will be in the same place as one of my friends (still hasn’t happened to date, but I like the idea) so that we might meet up and grab dinner or a drink, or perhaps to share travel plans and tips. It also allows users to share their ideas and expertise about the places the visit frequently with other users online. In other words, it is a site that’s all about community. Unfortunately, there isn’t much of one yet. Until it has gained the faithful participation of more of my friends and acquaintances (which it has certainly been doing in the last few months), it just isn’t very useful to me.

TripIt, on the other hand, has a pretty compelling service from the get-go. It offers to aggregate the disparate elements of my travels into a single master itinerary. In effect, it does all those nice things your assistant would do for you when planning your travel, if you were lucky enough to have one. It allows me to look to a single location for all of my travel details: what flight I am on, what time it leaves, when it arrives, what seat I am in, what hotel I am staying at (at what address, with what phone number), and which rental car company I will be using to get there. It even provides a few handy “value-adds” such as weather forecasts for the locations I will be in each day, and quick access to city maps.

In January, TripIt added some social functionality and is attempting to build a community element which appears similar to Dopplr. Nevertheless, it’s community appears to be even thinner than Dopplr’s, and has a long way to catch up.

Input:

Whereas Dopplr offers a fairly easy and intuitive method of inputting travel locations and dates, TripIt introduces an input methodology that is truly groundbreaking (in my experience, at least). Instead of requiring any real effort on my part, all I have to do is forward them my confirmation emails (from United, Hertz, and Sheraton, for instance) and it parses the information to identify all the pertinent details. It loads this detail into my calendar instantly and automatically, even capturing things like my frequent flyer numbers.

Another blogger who recently compared Dopplr and TripIt suggested an even better idea: setup an email filter to automatically forward travel plans to TripIt, eliminating even that minimal effort required to put the site to work for me. With an email filter in place, TripIt would automatically aggregate all travel details, update my travel calendar, and stream it through iCal to calendar programs like Google Calendars. (As a side note, am I the only person who wishes you could use an iCal stream as an input into an existing Google Calendar entry, rather than requiring you to establish a separate calendar for external feeds?)

Once in my Google Calendar, my travel plans (and location) would be easily shared with friends and colleagues. Even better, once they join the TripIt community, we can even build collaborative itineraries (such as a business trip with several colleagues making arrangements for the group individually).

The Case for Collaboration:

In summary, TripIt has quickly won me over on its practicality and simplicity. Where it still falls far short of Dopplr, however, is on the community element. Dopplr’s Facebook application and blog widget (which I use here as well as at mitchellwfox.com) allow me to quickly and easily allow others to track my location. The potential value of discovering that a friend’s travels will overlap with my own is strong enough to convince me to continue updating my itineraries there in the meantime. If, however, TripIt’s itinerary aggregation and input could be joined with the powerful potential of community I see in Dopplr’s model, it would be a match made in frequent-flyer heaver.

Where from Here:

It will be interesting to see how the TripIt business model develops. In my initial usage of the site, I didn’t see any obvious indicators of what their eventual business model would be. Following in the steps of the likes of TripAdvisor by adding advertising and the ability to book trips would seem a logical course of action. One interesting suggestion made by another blogger was to enable travelers to re-book previous itineraries through a simple interface asking for the dates of the repeat booking, which could then be executed through a partner, such as Expedia or Kayak.  Given the convenience this would provide the user, you might be able to extract a small booking fee.

It is an exciting time in the development of online travel tools – I wonder what’s next.

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Air France and Delta Trans-Atlantic JV

17 Oct

The International Herald Tribune reported today “Air France and Delta forming joint venture for trans-Atlantic flights.” This is yet another development in the airline industry as different players line up to take advantage of the impending change in regulation controlling flights between the United States and the European Union.

Many airlines are jockeying to take advantage of the “Open Skies” deal, which will allow airlines to fly from anywhere in the European Union to any point in the U.S. as of March 30.

The effect will inevitably play both to the favor of customers and airlines.

Customers will benefit from lower costs and more direct-flight options as more operators are allowed to cross the Atlantic, and to fly between markets which were previously not connected. Perhaps some intrepid airline will begin flying from San Francisco to Riyadh and make my life easier (yes, I realize Saudi Arabia isn’t part of the EU… yet).

With more possible destinations, airlines will be able to operate internationally at much lower cost (by, for instance, flying into London Luton rather than Heathrow or Gatwick). As different airports become viable options, airlines should have improved bargaining power when negotiating prices on landing slots and gates.

Could this be the way that US airlines break free from there historically abysmal profit levels?

New Insights In the Quest for an All-Business-Class Domestic Airline

16 Sep

Virgin America InteriorIn the time time since writing an earlier post, “Domestic US All-Business-Class Airline?,” I have stumbled across some additional, interesting insights about the prospects for an all-business US airline. To quickly reiterate, in that post I proposed that a company like EOS or Silverjet, which offers business-class-only flights over the Atlantic, could be successful flying domestically within the US.

First off, I failed to point out in my previous post that some airlines have taken a similar, if not identical approach in the past. Midwest Airlines is effectively an all business class domestic carrier, and airlines like JetBlue and Frontier have tried to position themselves as premier economy airlines, with leather seats and seat-back entertainment systems.

Second, it is important to note that the recent boom in transatlantic business class airlines is likely to not only continue, but to increase in light of the upcoming March 2008 opening of the transatlantic market to new competition when the Open Skies Pact goes into effect. This will likely distract much attention from the domestic US market for the next year or two, as the existing business-class players focus their investments on expanding service between new, previously unserved markets.

Third, Richard Branson appears to have really set his sights on the US domestic airline market. Virgin is expected to enter the all-business-class fray with a new transatlantic option, competing with EOS, Silverjet, and the others. This, only months after Virgin American began service from San Francisco offering a new premium domestic option. Its flights are split like most traditional airlines with both economy and “first class” sections, but many new service innovations such as on-demand meals, custom MP3 music playlists, and a seatback entertainment system that even allows electronic chatting with fellow passengers.

Virgin American appears set to fill a niche for low-cost premium service, but doesn’t eliminate the attractiveness of a truly upscale business-class-only option, since that configuration offers advantages in terms of lightening-fast boarding, lower risk of screaming babies, and smaller planes that can fly to less congested regional airports.

Finally, I should point out that I am not the first to have thought about this. Steven Livett and Stephen Dubner over at Freakonomics wrote about this very opportunity just a few months ago. Similarly, Scott McCartney at the Wall Street Journal, author of the Middle Seat column, generated some interesting discussion on his forum a couple months ago about domestic opportunities when he wrote about L’Avion and Silverjet.

Have others already tried?

While I still believe United PS is the best example of the type of routes and target audience such an airline would target, MidWest Airlines (formerly Midwest Express) is an interesting case study. It offers a single, “premium” class of service that is close to traditional “business class” on most domestic carriers. They even bake fresh cookies onboard!

The airline is rated “tops” again and again by customers, and demonstrates that a niche player can indeed be successful in the airline industry. It recently fended off a hostile takeover bid by AirTran, whose efforts were blocked partially through grassroots objections by its customers.

But Midwest Airlines is still relatively small and doesn’t compete in all US markets. Interestingly, it doesn’t compete for most of the long-haul domestic routes like LA to New York and Seattle to Miami where I believe a business class airline has the greatest prospects. If a proposed purchase of the airline by private equity giant TPG Capital and Northwest Airlines goes through, however, this sort of move and expansion between more US airports might very well be in the cards.

Needed: Flight Search for the Middle East

13 Aug

Saudi Arabian AirlinesI have just arrived in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia for a three month consulting engagement working on issues of regional competitiveness. Realizing that my teammates are escaping to various corners of the region this coming weekend (aka Thur and Fri), I decided to try and find a cheap flight to Istanbul or Doha, where I have some friends. Trick is, my old standbys, Kayak.com and ITA Software, don’t have much coverage at all in the region.

Therefore, out of pure self interest and with little basis other than my own 5 minute web search, I declare the Middle East is in need of some innovation in the online web search arena.

With Dubai and other regional cities booming, this might not actually be a terribly bad idea…

Domestic US All-Business-Class Airline?

25 Jul

On l'Avion airplane, which flies between Newark and Orly Airport in Paris. The walk-up airfare for a recent trans-Atlantic flight was $1,650.

An article today in the New York Times (“Demand Grows for All-Business-Class Flights“) discusses how airlines with only business class seating have been successful in the trans-Atlantic flight market. According to the article, four startups, L’Avion, MAXjet, Eos and Silverjet are all doing business only on long (5+ hour) international travel.

This raises the question, could the all-business-class model work for domestic service within the United States? I think it could, and am surprised that I have not heard of airlines pursuing this niche (with one exception, below).

Arguably, the profile of the average business class customer on coast-to-coast flights is not entirely different from those crossing the Atlantic. Whether going from New York to London or Los Angeles to DC, a business traveler has the same needs: quality lay-flat seats for sleeping, on-time departures, limited waiting time and hassle, decent food, and good service. He or she also has the same budget: substantial.

United Airlines is the only domestic airline I know of which offers a service in this arena, which they call P.S. for Premium Service. Having flown this service from San Francisco to Boston, however, I can certify it does not truly compete with the all-business-class airlines.

For one, it suffers from all the standard delays and hassles of flying domestically on United. Additionally, it uses old, outdated aircraft with few modern niceties such as individual video screens. The experience is more akin to flying your typical United flight than to a truly premier airline.

What would an airline need to do to really compete here?

  1. Offer reasonable prices for the quality of service (most likely in the $900 – $1500 range)
  2. Utilize smaller airports with fewer delays and easy access
  3. Equip new aircraft with modern amenities and comfortable, lie-flat seats
  4. Choose routes which are common for business travelers, but under-served by services like P.S. (for now), such as Seattle – New York and San Francisco – Washington DC.