Options Away
Options Away lets you lock-in a flight's price without booking.
If you can't beat 'em, join 'em, so the saying goes. And that's just what Chicago startup Options Awaydid when it launched in the competitive airline ticketing space in 2012.
Options Away set out to let travelers pay a few bucks to hold a flight in order to lock-in a low fare before they were ready to pay. Find a good price, put down a deposit, finalize your last-minute travel plans and then book the flight later on without fear of the price jumping. If you decide not to book, all you've lost is the deposit.
It's a simple and smart idea, but there was one problem: the online travel industry is really crowded. Co-Founder and COO Heidi Brown said the company called it its "William Shatner" dilemma as it wondered how it would compete for marketing dollars with the likes of Priceline and Trip Advisor.
"We used to laugh about how are we ever going to afford advertising when these companies have celebrities and giant advertising budgets," Brown said. "The travel industry is really consolidated and really big players are out there. What we decided to do is rather than compete against these guys, partner up with them."
So while customers can book travel and hold flights through Options Away's website, the startup is primarily a B2B company. 
Options Away works with a variety of partners from airlines to travel planning sites, and the company has landed big-name clients like Expedia and American Airlines to provide their customers with an option to put a hold on a flight.
"If you go on to one of our partner sites, you can search for a flight and you’ll see a buy button, and next to it is a hold button. That's Options Away," Brown said.
Brown wouldn't reveal specific user growth or revenue numbers, but noted that "every time we add a new partner our traffic grows exponentially because these partners are so large."
Here's how Options Away works: When you find a flight you like, you can put down a hold than ranges anywhere from $5-$30 (Options Away sets the hold price based on things like how much the flight costs, how long you want to hold it, and where you're flying). You can hold the flight for up to 21 days and purchase whenever you're ready. If you cancel the trip, the hold expires and all you've lost is the fee. If the price drops, you pay the lower rate.
And while some airlines like United offer a similar feature, Options Away says it's the only online travel agency that lets you lock-in fares across multiple airlines.
Brown said Options Away is giving people flexibility in airline travel that they've never had before. Whether you need to check if you can get off at work, call your friend to see if they're free, or still need to finalize hotel arrangements, you can confidently secure cheap airfare before you're ready to buy.
"If you want to book a hotel, you can always call and cancel it. You don’t even have to put a credit card down to rent a car," Brown said. "Air travel is the one thing that once you hit buy, it's done."
Options Away has raised around $6 million, and its investors include OCA Ventures, Pritzker Group Venture Capital, and 1871 CEO Howard Tullman.
Options Away is based in 1871 and is the incubator's largest tenant with 20 employees. The startup, which joined 1871 at its launch, is set to move into 1871's new 3.0 space on the 13th floor of the Merchandise Mart in January.
"I think the largest benefit (of being in 1871) is the serendipitous moments," Brown said. "You are in the same physical space, and you bump into people and perhaps they invest in your company or perhaps they know someone who knows someone at an airline. That's the kind of thing that I think the real value comes from."