Superfly’s guerilla marketing on Facebook is luring travelers to its flight search
Superfly’s guerrilla marketing on Facebook has lured users to its fight search tool, and its new airline e-mail scanning service may let customers load up their mileage information in a single click.
These are the latest developments for the US startup, which launched in 2010 as a “Mint for travel,” a platform to organize air miles and so forth. In November 2011, Superfly pivoted to metasearch, mocking Kayak by adding a loyalty scheme management system.
For the latest on Superfly, we checked in with its CEO, Jonathan Meiri.
In May 2012, Tnooz spoke with one of your advisors and investors, Bill Smith, a former CFO of Kayak. He said he thought Superfly could make a profitable business by providing segmented profile data to airlines. Can you put that idea in plain English?
I’ll take myself as an example, I travel 10 times a year from Tel Aviv to NY and San Francisco, 80% with Delta, 20% with United.
United thinks I’m a small customer because they think I travel only twice a year but Superfly knows that I travel five times more.
That is a share of “wallet information” that could be very valuable to United.
Superfly could be a platform for United to make a targeted sales pitch to travelers like me who fly often on its rival, Delta. The airline could use Superfly to deliver ads or status match offers to groups of users who have been segmented by shared characteristics, like having similar travel histories and budgets.
United could make its pitch by targeting an anonymized cluster of elite fliers. We would never sell the airlines the individual elite fliers’ personal information.
By the way, I’m just using Delta and United as examples of what could happen. We haven’t yet announced partnerships with any airline, though we are in negotiations with a few carriers.
What problem does Superfly solve differently to what is already out there — and for whom?
We solve pain points for customers and for suppliers that no other company is addressing.
Elite travelers have a pain point: Some travelers spend the equivalent cost of a new car or two every year on plane tickets, and they still feel they are treated very poorly by the airlines. We want to be the marketplace for heavy travelers to leverage their purchasing power to get the deals they deserve.
Airlines and other travel suppliers have a pain point, too. They are flying blind when it comes to marketing. Their best offers go to their most loyal customers rather than to customers they want to attract.
Hmm… What’s your marketing and acquisition plan to scale up your user base?
Facebook was, and remains, a core part of our customer acquisition strategy. Type “lufthansa elite” into Google and see the first organic result. It’s a link to a page operated by us and populated by links to us, not the airline.
Look at it carefully. This is one of 70-plus properties we’ve built. We’ve built a wide net to bring customers on board for a fraction of the cost of competitors.
It started out as guerrilla marketing and is now fairly elaborate strategy with each page connected to Twitter accounts.
Is Superfly getting any traction with consumers?
Sure, as users are signing up in large numbers.
A month ago we added a tool called Superbox, which helps customers automatically find lost miles in forgotten frequent flier accounts in their email in-box.
Similar to Tripit or LinkedIn services that help users find their itineraries or contacts, Superbox finds all your lost accounts. It uses Oauth, so customers don’t have to hand over their Web mail passwords or their frequent flier account passwords.
Superbox has really streamlined the on-boarding process.
Since introducing it, the average number of loyalty programs per user has shot up. The mileage balances we are adding daily are ten times as large as they were before Superbox started helping users find forgotten accounts.
Tell us more about your new email-based mileage management tracking tool, Superbox.
Superbox provide mileage information through a unique mix of data: consumer’s mileage alert emails and data that comes through scraping/API technology.
We use screen scraping/API technology to get the airline data live where available. It’s just as good if not better than what the other players have. None of the airlines provides API access to any company, but Superfly pulls live data by screen scrapping (or from third party API) for more than 70 airlines
Yet some airlines won’t allow screen scraping. As the Wall Street Journal put it, “most airlines claim they—not the travelers—own the miles and even account passwords.”
As a result, many airlines try to prevent third-parties, such as GoMiles and MileWise, from scraping their sites. They even prevent third-parties from directly accessing mileage data, even if customers voluntarily hand over their user account information for that very purpose to the third-parties.
For instance, Delta has blocked AwardWallet from access to its users’ mileage information.
Superfly works around this problem by not scraping the sites or accessing the sites directly with user-supplied information.
I don’t think there is anything airlines can legally do here as users don’t have to hand over passwords to their email accounts.
The game-changing angle here is the fact that we support all airlines, including US domestic airlines that get a high off cease and desist letters. No other consumer site does that.
For example, it lets us support Southwest accounts without violating that airline’s terms of service. None of the consumer sites provide support to Southwest because it sends cease and desist letters to them if they try.
Superbox only works with Gmail accounts right now. We plan to add compatability with Hotmail, Yahoo, and other accounts soon.
A mileage tracker site can be fast, accurate, or comprehensive: Pick two. Superfly/Superbox is dependent on the accuracy and frequency of the mileage updates emailed by the airlines, so it can only be fast and comprehensive, not accurate. Right?
Some travel suppliers provide monthly statements and others provide your balance/elite status as part of weekly marketing emails (Amex, for example).
So while the worst case could be up to a month, the data is less than two weeks’ old on average.
If the information is often two weeks old on average, the quality of the information is often not accurate. But let’s say mileage junkies don’t care. What’s to prevent a market leader in mileage management like AwardWallet to duplicate the OAuth for emails and eliminate the main differentiation of Superbox?
AwardWallet has mainly a B2B model, so they are not a rival but rather a partner.
Miles management is a commodity. I would not be wasting your time, my time, or our investors time and money on another rewards management service.
Points.com is not primariliy a consumer company, they make their money by providing white label solutions to airlines, and I see them as a natural partner in the future.
If Superfly’s big customer gain lately is from users who had forgotten their mileage accounts, those users are probably not as serious as the readers of FlyerTalk. Is Superfly is more aimed at newbies than at true mileage junkies?
Our platform is a learning one. We’d like to do the heavy lifting for all travelers. But currently the more you travel the more value we provide.
On each search result for fares, Superfly ranks fares in order of “net value,” which is the cost of a ticket minus the value of miles earned according to our proprietary calculation.
If I’m a Milepoint-reading, mileage junkie, I’m probably interested in particular classes of seats, like a Y-class seat in certain situations. Does Superfly have plans to appeal to the geekier frequent fliers?
We look carefully at the class of ticket and use it for valuing the miles earned. We plan to expose it more in the product soon for the exact reason you mention.
We want to leverage some of the unstructured content, like the type you see on FlyerTalk or MilePoint and incorporate it into simple, actionable advice. If you have more ideas, feel fee to send them our way.
The mileage tracking only works for domestic US airlines right now. Is that your focus?
We are planning to add more services soon. Expect us to be providing mileage tracking for the top 10 international airlines before the end of the month.
We’ll maybe have the rest of the major international airlines by the end of March.
Is there money in flight metasearch itself?
Flights is a low-margin business but if you win flights you win the down stream revenue from hotels.
The much bigger market though is the data-driven offers. Our vision is exactly to make money from the airlines and other travel suppliers.
Has your look-to-book ratio improved?
The data is scattered, but from what I’ve gathered, we have one of the best look to book ratios in the industry. That said, we do not plan to make much money off flights.
Is Expedia Superfly’s exclusive OTA for handing off flight transactions downstream right now?
Yes, but this will change shortly as we provide users that option to book directly from the airlines. There is no money is flights, so the least we could do is provide a good experience by offering multiple booking partners.
In November we began offering Vayama’s airfare content to our users, strengthening our international results.
Is Superfly using Google/ITA Software’s QPX as its airfare search provider?
We use a bunch of providers and plan to add more. Getting the best inventory of flights is key and when we tested QPX alone it was not sufficient. We are in the process of adding two providers in the short term.
Are you getting outside expertise?
We’re happy to have great people on board as support like Ken Esterow, director of the board of directors at Orbitz, Bill Smith, and Jeff Clarke, chairman of the board of directors of Travelport, who was also part of our most recent round at Superfly.
What’s your staffing? And what’s the burn on that $500,000 funding round a while back?
We have four full time staffers including myself, two part-timers, and a half-dozen interns. Our low burn has given us lots of runway to innovate and adapt.
What travel companies do you admire?
TripIt is the only player I admire, and I’m saying that as it was once my competitor when I worked at a previous job [VP Product Management and User Experience at WorldMate].
But there is still so much more potential in the business travel space.
What do you think of Hipmunk?
Anonymous flight search is a waste of time, especially if you don’t own the underlying technology and your design is a copy of and patented by ITA.
Their UI is great but there is nothing personal about their service. We’ve tested it and there is a strong gender bias there.
What makes Superfly unique?
Superfly is the only consumer flight search tool supporting domestic US airlines’ loyalty programs. We make mileage information part of the search result, pointing consumers to the best ticket for both the price and the frequent flier value.
We are a travel data play. Data is the only underused asset I see right now and we plan to own that space. None of our competitors have that focus.
Sean O’Neill is a New Jersey-based reporter for Tnooz. He is also a daily contributor of consumer news to LonelyPlanet.com.
He used to work for BBC Travel, BudgetTravel.com, and Kiplinger's, and used to live in London, New York City, and Washington, DC.