Monday, June 20, 2016

Options Away taking off, adding new fare alert

Options Away taking off, adding new fare alert

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Rob and Heidi Brown
Options Away is taking its next step in reinventing how consumers shop for travel.
Two years ago, trading industry veterans Rob and Heidi Brown launched a service that allowed people to buy an option to hold a flight at a particular price while they decided whether to follow through with a trip.
Now they're testing a new product called Trip Watch, an alert for low fares on specific flights. Unlike most alerts, Options Away will automatically lock in an option on a particular fare and offer you the chance to purchase it.
“We lock it in and alert you, rather than just giving you an alert to a fare that may be gone by the time you act,” Rob Brown said. “Only if they decide to book will we charge them a fee.”
Options Away customers typically pay about $14 to hold a flight anywhere from 24 hours to 21 days.
Options Away, one of the largest companies based at the 1871 startup incubator inside the Merchandise Mart, is starting to show some real traction. The company has signed up several of the big players, including Kayak, Expedia and its subsidiaries Orbitz and Travelocity, Hipmunk and Cheaptickets. Combined, they account for about 60 percent of airline bookings.
Rob Brown estimates Options Away covers more than 90 percent of U.S. routes and international routes that start in the U.S. It's working with 40 airlines and is offering options on flights involving 518 airports with 134 origin and destination cities in the United States and overseas, up from 27 when it started. Headcount has more than doubled to 23 from about 10 a year ago. Options Away has raised more than $5 million in funding.
The company is looking to expand internationally and likely will have to raise more money to fund its growth. Currently it offers overseas flights but only to customers whose travel starts in the U.S. It also wants to add packages.
Rob Brown says Options Away customers also purchase hotels earlier than normal. Seventy-five percent of people who buy travel online purchase their hotels within 30 days of their travel date. He says 63 percent of hotels sold to Options Away customers are booked more than 30 days from the date of travel.
"We're generating new revenue through options,” Rob Brown said. “What's more important is we're engaging with the customer earlier than anybody else.”
It's a compelling proposition. We'll see whether partners and investors buy in.

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