Cheapflights bans clumsy mobile handoffs
Airline-deal publisher Cheapflights has laid down the law for its mobile websites in the US and UK — there will be no flights shown from intermediaries or suppliers unless they have quality mobile websites of their own for bookings.
Rolled out and being tested over the last few days, Cheapflights’ mobile websites in those two large travel markets only display flight offers from the likes of Expedia, CheapTickets, Orbitz, ebookers and Opodo because they have mobile sites of their own and presumably travelers won’t get lost in the exchange when navigating to these sites for booking.
“My message to the industry is, ‘Wakey, wakey. Where is your mobile booking site?’” says Hugo Burge, CEO of Cheapflights Media.
He says “a small subset of the industry” has mobile booking sites — and some are “crappy mobile sites” — so it’s time this should change to benefit the user experience.
Burge says Cheapflights is “sticking to our guns” and its mobile websites will exclusively work with partners that have quality mobile sites of their own.
Metasearch site Kayak, too, has tried to tackle this problem, processing hotel bookings on Kayak.com, although the hotel offers actual come through a white-label deal with Travelocity.
If Cheapflights is laudably setting a high standard for its mobile websites, Burge, who was in Manhattan for an investment conference, concedes that Cheapflights has no mobile apps and has lagged in this area.
“We should be further ahead, but I think this is a step in the right direction and we have a lot more to do, for sure,” Burge says.
Burge says Cheapflights has experimented with mobile and initially and mistakenly “tried to emulate the website.”
Many others have traveled down this well-worn, ill-fated and awkward path.
Instead, Cheapflights realized it needed to simplify things in mobile and has experimented.
“It’s an iterative process,” Burge says.
Meanwhile, Cheapflights.com is seeing 14% of visits from smartphones and 6.5% from tablets, and Cheapflights.co.uk attracts 9% of visits from smartphones and 7% from tablets, Burge says.
And, if Cheapflights is working on refining its mobile strategy, there are other changes going on at the media company, which debuted in 1996, in the UK.
A little more than a year after acquiring travel-metasearch company Momondo, Burge says “it kind of moved our world a bit. It’s been transformative.”
“We replaced loss-making Zugu with profit-making Momondo,” Burge says. “It’s been accretive for us in year one.”
There’s definitely overlap between the two brands, Momondo and Cheapflights, although the latter relies on its media heritage and publishes primarily flight and hotel deals while Momondo takes a metasearch, comparison-shopping approach.
Momondo is strong in the Nordic countries and Russia and has been making inroads in the US, while Cheapflights’ prime markets are the UK, US, Canada and Australia with smaller footprints in Germany, France and Spain, Burge says.
Parent company Cheapflights Media is sticking with the two-brand approach for Cheapflights and Momondo, although they’ve been able to find synergies in areas such as back-end reporting, tracking, and financial and data systems, Burge says.
And, there have been “learnings” from one another, too.
Burge says the Momondo staff has delivered “fresh ideas” to Cheapflights, including a product focus.
And, Cheapflights has taught Momondo lessons about SEO, “which bored them,” Burge says.
“Yes, we learned from each other,” says Martin Lumbye, principal at Momondo. “They [Cheapflights] are indeed very good at structural things, and very good on organization. And, they are very ambitious — and think global.”
“I think we are very good on development of product, lean operations and branding,” Lumbye says.
So, what’s ahead for Cheapflights Media?
Burge says there will be greater emphasis on Cheapflights’ newsletters, which now have 6 million subscribers, with a new push in vacation packages and cruise deals.
“We’ve gotten better at segmenting the user base and providing relevant deals,” Burge says.
But, what drove the improvements?
“It was trial and error and testing,” Burge says. “There was no rocket science to it and there were some bitter experiences trying out what works. We started out with a lot of preferences and narrowed it down. It varies country by country.”
And, Cheapflights is also considering getting into the private sales arena, perhaps with package holidays and cruises, Burge says.
“I think it is a natural area for us to explore,” Burge says. “Frankly, they make a lot more money than we do.”
Speaking of money, Burge says there is no serious consideration at Cheapflights of doing an IPO anytime soon.
He notes the company is under-capitalized compared with some larger competitors and is proud to have acquired Momondo with cash.
With Google Flight Search getting its act together after Google’s acquisition of ITA Software, Burge feels that further consolidation is in the offing.
“A year in [after the purchase of Momondo], we were delighted to have done it,” Burge says. “It is food for thought as to what happens next.”
Note: Baton photo courtesy of Shutterstock.
Dennis Schaal was North American editor for Tnooz.