The corporate travel segment is just good business for Freebird, the startup that rebooks travelers experiencing flight disruption. The Cambridge, Mass.-based company shifted its focus to TMCs and their corporate clients a year ago and received another $5 million in funding from General Catalyst and Accomplice in April, following an initial round of $3.5 million in November 2015.
Ethan Bernstein, CEO and co-founder says:
“We’re saving companies money because the downstream impact of flight disruptions are incredibly expensive for them and can increase their overall air spend by five to 15 percent. We can remove inefficiency from the system and help employees get to their destination, reducing disruption costs for our clients, saving them money and improving travelers’ experience.”
To date, Freebird says it has gained a foothold in the corporate market by signing on publicly traded and Fortune 500 companies at a rate of about a dozen per quarter. Bernstein describes the response from the segment as “overwhelming.”
“It’s a space that’s well suited to our product because there’s no other product or tech that solves for this problem.”
The startup made the decision to redirect its focus to corporate travel after encountering its own set of pain points with the leisure market, where there was friction with both the sign-up and purchase processes. Working directly with organizations that have established travelers streamlines Freebird’s customer acquisition while safeguarding their clients’ flight purchases –a void that travel insurance can’t fill—without requiring them to develop or deploy new technology.
Accommodating this new clientele necessitated the addition of new capabilities to Freebird’s tech repertoire: integration with all three GDS systems so that rebookings made on behalf of corporate travelers are made as the TMC or employer via their pseudo city codes. The process allows the rebooking to fall into existing workflow records while also complying with the organization’s duty of care policies.
Once a client signs on with Freebird, the implementation process takes about 30 days as Freebird obtains the requisite GDS credentials from the company, which also shares a list of high-value travelers whose airfare will be regularly monitored by Freebird and rebooked in cases of disruption.
Bernstein calls the product turnkey and seamless for travel managers. For business travelers, the rebooking process is equally efficient as they’ll receive a phone notification as soon as a cancellation happens, including a link via text with live search results that opens in a mobile optimized website and ranks flights in order of arrival time. Non-stops appear at the top. Pricing information does not appear. The traveler selects a flight with their second tap and then clicks “Book Flight,” effectively skipping the line to rebook with the gate agent. There’s no app to download.
In 2018, Freebird plans to expand its stronghold in the corporate travel segment. The startup hired its first sales manager this past fall and will continue adding more in the coming year.
Bernstein describes the opportunity with existing TMC partners as “still very large and there are even bigger fish out there.” Nor does Freebird have any competitors.
But there’s more on Freebird’s agenda for the New Year; the company is also working on a data model that will connect patterns between weather, flight alerts and pricing availability to both predict and price future economic values and risks to specific flights in real time. Much of the data is used internally at Freebird to understand the likelihood of disruption and expected replacement costs of any given flight. However, Bernstein says the data’s applications go beyond the corporate travel space.
All airline carriers are subject to more or less the same types of levels of disruptions, but any carrier can be disproportionally affected in a given region when a disruption occurs and few alternatives are available when a single flight is taken out of service. That can in turn impact flights in other parts of the country. He expects the data will have applications for the airline industry and its customer support services.
“Our vision for the future is to make flying more efficient for everyone and to relive the operational and financial burden on airlines,” Bernstein said. “If there’s opportunity with airlines to provide a better customer experience, we’re happy to talk to them about it.”