Superfly, the meta search company that bakes loyalty points into the flight booking process, has announced a new feature that signals a strategic shift.
The product is called Travel Emails, and is a play to collect more granular data from its customers. This data can then be used to better target flights, awards and other partner promotions via Superfly.
Travel Emails is simply a feature that pulls in a user's travel emails into a searchable interface that is attractive and easy-to-skim. Users who have signed up for the Superbox service, which gets around screenscraping limitations by transferring loyalty emails into their Superfly mileage accounts, have already given the company access to their inboxes.
Superbox is similar to other services such as TripIt, which pulls in emails automatically once a user enters their email information. At the moment, the functionality does not provide full-featured itineraries, but rather allows users to aggregate travel information into one place and search it without the clutter of a traditional inbox.
How Travel Emails signals a shift in direction
Superfly accomplishes two things by pulling a user's travel emails.
One, they get users into Superfly more often, thus increasing the opportunities for revenue generation.
Two, they increase the efficiency of travelers seeking promotions for trip planning, loyalty updates for frequent traveling, reservations for current trips, or any of the myriad other offers and updates commonplace in travel and airline loyalty marketing programs.
Tnooz spoke with Superfly CEO Jonathan Meiri who outlined the shift in strategy, pointing to the constant drumbeat of personalization as the strategic driver.
Every company wants to personalize, but this becomes next-to-impossible with a limited chunk of profile data available to the average company. Even with a robust loyalty program, a travel brand can only analyze its own customers' behaviors.
When we look forward at the next 10 years, we imagine that its all about personalization. But really personalization is giving the right product to the right person at the right time. When you break it down, it could be all about identity - knowing you are in New York after a flight from London, for example. The other elements are context [and] data, data, data.
This data becomes the fulcrum to value creation, as individual companies are siloed off from the full data profile of a traveler's history. Superfly, on the other hand, can analyze travel behavior in aggregate.
What's the data and where does it come from? When you look over the travel value chain, everyone has some sort of data. What terms were used, what hotels were booked, what specific flights were booked. Everyone has one slice, yet no one has the full, rich view of the consumer.
Really, if you look at an individual travel budget, it's spread amongst different companies. And the consumer is smart, savvy, and aware [of the marketing environment].
The spread of loyalty is something that has roots in both the changing behavior of the Millenial generation and the commoditization of travel forced by the OTAs and airlines over the past decades.
Less loyalty = more opportunities
The drop in loyalty is also the primary business opportunity for Superfly.
By aggregating traveler data across programs, itineraries, offers and other travel marketing and habits, the company can offer valuable opportunities to increase share-of-wallet through promotions directly targeted to specific user profiles.
For example, the business traveler who travels across airlines, but leans towards one airline, can be targeted by the losing airline to gain more of his travel budget. More high value customers equals more revenue.
In the process of Superbox, we have built a very rich profile of the traveler. Everything you do online leaves a trail in the inbox: various receipts, invoices, updates, etc. Most importantly, is the value of the traveler and her share of wallet. Knowing the spread of spend across companies is an essential piece of data here.
We're able to connect airlines to higher value customers.
By focusing on share-of-wallet, Superfly intends on building travel's first true expansive big data play. Not beholden to one airline or one hotel brand, the company can place itself squarely in the middle.
Arbitraging the data amongst brands, the company builds a win for all stakeholders: travel brands can increase revenues, consumers get better marketing targeted to their actual travel habits, and the company earns revenue.
We plan on providing suppliers - airlines, specifically, and hotel chains - a path of engagement to travelers. It's all about getting the right offer to the right person at the right time. For example, knowing who might be interested in a heavy traveler that flies business to London from SF 4x a year and is loyal to Brand X - and what they would do to market to that person.
Suppliers can then target travelers with incredibly lucrative offers. Really what's a lot more interesting is helping the consumers figure out what's right for them.
For many Millenials, they're not even getting rewards on the flights they're on. To date, everything that was done outside of loyalty had no tie in. We're now seeing a boatload of itineraries that are not on anyone's radar because they do not have a loyalty number attached to it.
The consumer can win with Big Data
The consumer wins big, especially in a disloyal environment. By allowing the airlines to compete directly for their true business - rather than trying to sell her something she doesn't want - the traveler is able to save money on better travel options. And the traveler enjoys much more variety due to the more intensive cross-brand competition.
This targeted relevance also boosts ROI for the airlines. We think that the entity who's going to own the data is the entity that can deliver the best offer to the right person at the right person. That's the thing that's missing today in travel.
Meiri credits this strategic shift towards big data to former Kayak CFO Bill Smith, who is a member of Superfly's Board of Directors.
First, we thought we were going to build a better meta search engine. Then we brought on former Kayak CFO Bill Smith. He told us that even if we were to grow 10x or 20x, it wouldn't be interesting as there is no money in flights and you have to pay big for access to the inventory. It's too niche to be profitable. He pushed us to rethink the entire business.
For his part, former Kayak CFO Bill Smith sees this move as a very significant development in the SuperFly business.
The team is very responsive to customer and advisor feedback. After initially focusing on metasearch as a way to offer preliminary value to consumers, due to my own experience with market incumbents and general market saturation, we pivoted to more of a focus on the stand alone personalized offers in a marketplace format without needing to build out and maintain a fully fledged search offering.Beyond creating value for consumers, travel suppliers can now leverage the aggregated traveler data to provide valuable offers and promotions to the highest value travelers.
Smith also sees the rapid evolution of Superfly's strategic direction as essential to the future of smart travel.
Superfly is providing a new avenue of value to the traveler. Rather than providing low cost booking options, faster results or breadth of choice, Superfly is making travel more personal through innovations in email search technology.In addition to search, consumers will have the opportunity to receive personalized, special offers from suppliers that leverage consumers' travel history from email booking receipts while the consumer is active in the booking path. Superfly's use of data will make these offers more relevant and timely for the consumer and better increase conversion of the suppliers.
Beyond privacy, this is about relevance
Frequent travelers are much more likely to welcome such a service into their lives, because, rather than privacy concerns, said traveler is concerned about effective marketing and promotions that not only save her time and money, but also enhance the actual travel experience so that's its ideally suited to her individual habits and preferences.
This also levels the playing field as far as loyalty is concerned, forcing airlines to compete directly in ways that weren't always possible before.
Airlines theoretically will be foreced to step up their game not only in the price value of the offering, but in customer service, amenities and perks. If a loyal customer can be more easily poached by another airline via traveler profiling, then airlines will have to do better by each customer.
Ultimately, looking out for the consumer is a smart play, especially when it's a savvy and mobile customer that wants only the best travel experience possible at the best price at the right time.
There's a ways to go until a determination can be made regarding the efficacy of the new strategy, but all signs point to an intelligent differentiator that might turn into quite the game changer for a significant portion of the frequent traveler community.