Airfares: What's the deal with Fly.com?
This post is only for people who are obsessed with getting the lowest airfares—or with under-the-radar, travel industry news.
You probably haven't heard of Fly.com because the site doesn't have a marketing budget yet. But you'll be hearing much more about the site after it gets out of beta testing shortly, which will happen before summertime.
The site already claims to have debuted a few firsts for fare search sites online.
• For a price, Fly.com invites airlines to add a "Why Me?" link that appears next to their fares in the search results. For example, say you search for plane tickets on Fly.com and the site produces a list of fares. If the results include fares from American Airlines, a "Why Me" link may appear next to the fare quote. Click on that link and a window opens explaining that American is different from other airlines in that it offers in-flight wireless Internet access on selected flights. Virgin America is another airline that is periodically adding the "Why Me?" box to its search results on Fly.com. The boxes will remind travelers that the airline offers added-value features such as its nifty in-flight entertainment system that includes instant-messaging with other passengers. This service is to help people who are not shopping solely on price to choose which airline is best for them on a given route. We've only seen the Why Me feature on a handful of highly competitive routes so far.
• Fly.com displays all cabin classes—economy, business, and first—in one integrated display. Unlike other metasearch sites, it doesn't have a drop-down menu for selecting whether you want to see economy, business, or first-class seats—you automatically get the lowest in economy and the lowest in premium classes at the top of the screen. The point is to allow travelers to spot when a business or first class seat (which the site puts under the single label of "premium" seats) are available at a price that isn't much higher than an economy class seat.
Says Brian Clark, senior vice president and general manager of search products for Travelzoo: "Users already are finding affordable business and first class fares that they otherwise would never have known about."
• Fly.com says it lists its fares in an unbiased rank order. There isn't pay for placement, though parent company Travelzoo will continue to accept money from travel companies for preferential placement in its famous "Top 20 deals on the Internet" e-newsletter.
What does Fly.com do for Travelzoo, its parent company, which is a world leader at identifying and publishing travel deals? Travelzoo execs hint that Fly.com will, in its first phase, be a supplement to Travelzoo's deals listings. Let's say you subscribe to the Top 20 deals on the Internet e-newsletter, and you see a great resort package for four-nights, all-inclusive at a four-star resort in Los Cabos. But let's imagine that have little idea how much it would cost to book plane tickets to take advantage of that deal. Well, Travelzoo will incorporate Fly.com search results, perhaps in a pop-up window, synchronizing with the specifics of the deal. In this example, if the Los Cabos resort deal is only available for April 14–19, then the box will show selected fares via Fly.com to Los Cabos for that date. The goal is to amplify not only the deals, but all travel options, and encourage people to book confirmed deals.
Travelzoo spent $1.8 million on the Fly.com URL, as TechCrunch has reported. The company could have launched the site on a different, free URL, such as travelzoo.com/flights instead. The logic behind purchasing the fly.com URL, says Clark, is that "fly" is a word that is frequently used by people searching for deals on search engines like Google and Yahoo and that it will naturally attract users over time. It's also proof that Travelzoo is committed to making Fly.com be a standalone product that competes directly with the Orbitzs and Kayakss of the world in fare search. Clark says that Fly.com plans to add hotel rate searches in due time.
One final point. Fly.com's team was less than pleased by my claim that their site's design looked like a copycat version of Kayak (see "Kayak responds to mimicry by…Fly.com). The company's position is that it doesn't feel it needs to reinvent the wheel [i.e. the overall look of the site] given that travelers have become familiar with a certain type of website design when it comes to travel searches. In the words of Clark, "Why break new ground when users are already attracted to a successful model? The goal is to innovate the user experience on top of a proven interface."
Clark adds: "We intend to prove we are as worthy or more worthy of customers in the airfare metasearch space. We've already debuted several industry firsts."
UPDATE: March 20
I had missed an insightful post on Fly.com by The Cranky Flier. He says, "They need to get more aggressive in promoting deals that are truly stellar and can’t be found elsewhere. Only then will people maybe consider coming to Fly.com to search, but even that is questionable."
Pick the top theme park ride..."March Madness"-style
Even if you don't follow college basketball, you can still share in all the bracket fun. Our friends over at Theme Park Insider are having their own March Madness-style tournament to determine the "Best Ride in North America." Voting has already started and every day a different bracket will be played out until a winner is crowned. Will Disney's Twilight Zone Tower of Terror—returning champ and a number-one seed—win it all again? Or will a Cinderella story play out and we'll see Peter Pan's Flight (ranked 64) upset them all? (About as likely as East Tennessee State upsetting Pitt in the real tournament.) The seedings are 1–64, so for all of you veteran bracketologists out there, there are no 12-5 upsets you can count on. Voting will go through the beginning of next month, when the championship and the title of "Best Ride in North America" is decided on April 3. EARLIER What's Your Favorite Theme Park Ride? (50+ comments)
This weekend: Charleston opens 150 lovely historic homes
Charlestonians are used to being gracious hosts—the charming, old-fashioned city sees more than a million visitors a year. But they truly open their doors in spring, with the annual Festival of Houses and Gardens. Starting this weekend and lasting a month, the festival will showcase 150 historic homes in 11 colonial and antebellum neighborhoods. More than a dozen different three-hour tours hit eight to 10 properties, each of which often span several decades of design. There are two new tours this year: Architectural Gems, which will feature six homes, and Secret Gardens of the French Quarter, with guest lecturers. The very popular Glorious Gardens tour takes you through some of the most impressive gardens in town, with a specialized guide in each (March and April are peak blooming season, so the colors will be popping). The Historic Charleston Foundation puts on the show with the help of 650 community volunteers; this is its 62nd year. The foundation, started in 1947, protects buildings and landscapes important to Charleston's heritage. The tour cost might seem steep ($45 per person for each tour), but all that goes into education, advocacy, and maintaining and restoring the old houses. The foundation also leads two-hour morning walking tours of Charleston's Historic District. Although you won't see inside any private homes on these tours, you will get a good sense of the area and its traditions at a price that might fit your budget better ($20 each for adults). Tours sell out fast—last year, the festival attracted more than 12,000 guests. Tickets available at historiccharleston.org or 843/722-3405. PREVIOUSLY 25 Reasons We Love Charleston Trip Coach: A Girls' Getaway in Charleston & Savannah BT Upgrade: Exclusive Tour of Wentworth Mansion
Great (but not yet free) fares to Australia
Looks like those normally laid-back Australians are worried about one thing—the downtrodden global economy's effect on tourism. As The Age reported last week (and travel blog Jaunted picked up), the Australian government is mulling over a plan to pay for tourists' flights, as long as the tourists spend a certain amount of dough once they land (it would be something like $3,200). There's no guarantee that plan will pass—but it's already possible to get yourself to Australia cheaply these days. Qantas, the country's national carrier, just cut one-way fares from L.A. and San Francisco to several cities, including Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane. Flights start at $299 each way, or $598 round-trip, before taxes (which we saw running about $120.) The deadline to book is by Friday—so act fast. Travel is through Oct. 24. United Airlines has a competing sale, with rates from L.A. to Melbourne and Sydney starting at $299 each way before taxes (also around $120). Book by Monday for travel through June 15. Remember that the more flexible your dates, the more likely you are to get a deal (travel on weekends will almost always be more expensive). You can get more info on Australia's official tourism site and even plan a One Week Walkabout package. (Need to get inspired? Try watching the epic Australia; it's now out on DVD. Read what we said about it the 2008 edition of Movie Quest.)
A few good links: Stripping naked for Aer Lingus
Hundreds strip 'naked' to win free Aer Lingus flights Participants got "strategically placed shamrocks" to cover up a bit. What is it with Irish airlines? [Telegraph] Ryanair offers cash reward if you invent their next fee. And we thought the paying to pee was just a publicity stunt. [upgrade: travel better] Take five native New Yorkers… The Guardian asks for (and critiques) five locals' advice on hanging out in the city. Immigration Explorer A county-by-county map shows the origins of first-generation immigrants . [New York Times] Fear of Flying Completely non-actionable advice for making it into the air. [Morning News] Scoring a Restaurant Table Online OpenTable.com, Restaurant.com, and a host of others. [Wall Street Journal] Australia Says 'Mayday, Mayday, We'll Pay You To Visit Us'. A proposal that the Aussie government pay for your flight. [Jaunted] Sears Tower to be renamed Willis Tower. The nation's tallest building has a new name, but will anyone use it? [Chicago Sun-Times] Man sues American Airlines for revoking his lifetime travel pass. He paid $250,000 20 years ago for lifetime first-class seats. [Gadling]