Metasearch is part of the distribution mix for airlines and a popular channel with consumers. The meta model has changed over the years but its core function - comparing flight prices - remains the same.
The presentation of these results has also changed, with filter options becoming more sophisticated, allowing users to drill down and get a more targeted set of results.
More airlines are making their inventory available to the metas, including low-cost airlines. In markets where low-cost airlines are dominant - specifically Asia-Pacific - this extra inventory is giving added impetus to the meta sector.
HelloWings, a Taiwanese start-up looking to develop a footprint across south-east Asia, describes itself as "the first ever cross-budget airlines visualized comparator." Its USP is that the flight results are presented on a chart which shows the cheapest price for a route over a specified time frame, such as a week, three months or a year.
Before the Q&A, here's PR manager Nash Chang explaining what HelloWings does and why.
What problem does your business solve?
The flight search products on the market seem to be built for frequent fliers or business travellers. HelloWings, the first ever cross-budget airlines visualized comparator, aims to solve not only this information bias but also the outdated search formats currently powering flight metasearch.
We have different products and features catering to a diversified group of travelers.
HelloWings NOW: Available as an Andriod app, this product is aimed at short-haul travellers who know their departure time and just want to book a seat. This group are not interested in comparing luggage allowances - they simply want to book from their phone.
HelloWings Budget: For more diverse flight search across regions and flexible dates, HelloWings Budget collects and analyzes worldwide LCCs to give you full-year, real-time, and tax-included prices, on a simple chart. The lowest price shown is the lowest from all indexed airlines at the time of search - our accuracy is since we connect with the airline’s official website rather than OTAs or other third parties.
HybridConnect: Targetted at people who are looking for the perfect mix between comfort and saving on a long-haul flight. Hybrid Connect calculates full-service and low-cost carrier combinations which requires both a GDS connection and an extensive LCC database to calculate a viable combination that can be purchased by users.
This revolutionary feature is coming this autumn.
Names of founders, their management roles, and number of full-time paid staff?
The four founders are:
Ada Chao - chief technology officer
April Wu - chief design officer
Mark Hsu - chief executive officer
Peter Chen - chief information officer
And we have two full-time employees:
Irene Fong - marketing manager
Nash Chang - PR manager
We closed our seed round in May 2016.
HelloWings NOW and HelloWings Budget are expected to be small in ticket revenue but big in total transactions. This should establish our scale and credibility as a price comparison tool and gain user’s trust in our other product lines.
HybridConnect is a significant part of our revenue due to its groundbreaking nature. Full service carriers often charge a premium for interlining transfer tickets, and HyridConnect can reduce the cost by, we think, 5-20% by replacing a leg with LCC flights. That gives us room to add a reasonable mark-up for ourselves while keeping the price competitive.
Why do you think the pain point you’re solving is painful enough that customers are willing to pay for your solution?
Most travellers settle for incorrectly priced comparison sites and unreachable customer service, but we hope to make a difference. HelloWings utilizes crawlers and machine learning to prove that flight comparison can be as accurate and simple as hotels. We can’t yet change the fundamental differences between low-cost and full-service ticketing systems, but we can use coding to adapt two different modules into a single platform that’s intuitive to use.
As well as the seed round above, we participated in AirAsia Group's Tune Labs incubator program, and have formed strategic partnership with them.
HelloWings seems to have come a long way in the three months or so since it closed its (undisclosed) seed round, getting an app and a fully functional website up and running.
At the risk of sounding like whatever the digital equivalent of a broken record is, "customer acquisition costs" could be a concern. This is a headwind for any consumer-facing start-up (and, lets face it, established B2C businesses as well). However good the proprietary tech or user interface, HelloWings will need to attract users in order to succeed.
The visualized comparator is a great headline differentiator, but most metas are trying something fresh in order to stand out in a very competitive environment.
Perhaps HelloWings' local knowledge might help it stand out in its targeted southeast Asian market, although Kayak, Skyscanner and Cheapflights' presence in the region means there are some well-resourced rivals out there.
The size of the southeast Asian market means that there should be room for more than one meta and HelloWings has everything in place to carve out a niche for itself. How big its niche becomes will depend as much on how aggressive the major players are - and that is something beyond HelloWings' control.