FlySpy – Finally, A Useful Airfare Service?

Jen and I like vacationing in Europe – our heritage pretty much dictates it. We don’t really care when we go. We’ve got a general idea of what we want tickets to cost and are happy to build a vacation around that price.

As Dave points out the “I don’t care when, just how much” traveler has been stuck hunting-and-pecking arbitrary calendar dates on the various travel sites finding something that makes sense.

My experience with Orbitz gave me first-hand knowledge of the volatility of airfare prices. Just like at eBay, you’re not really sure what the final price is until after the transaction.

Hopefully, once FlySpy launches, those days will be over.

Google just gave me this alpha link.

UPDATE 16 May 2006: podcast of my interview with Robert Metcalf

Starbucks is Ideal for Lazy Vacationers

The wife and I spent this past weekend in the middle of Wisconsin. We’re both particular about our coffee and we both enjoy joking about measuring distance in Starbucks. At home, we prefer local roasters like Dunn Bros or White Rock.

But you don’t know the relief we sighed when Wausau got their first Starbucks. Like McDonalds, Starbucks’ offering are consistently mediocre. Yet, they are still leagues above the native coffee shops in terms of quality, they’re the only place in town with a wireless network, and the only coffee shop open on Sundays.

This makes Starbucks the obvious answer for grabbing a decent morning cup while out of town. As much as I’d prefer a quirkly, quaint, local roaster.

Now, with 2 Starbucks in the area, we also had our first “Best in Show” moment – meeting people at Starbucks…just not the same Starbucks.

This post was inspired by The Excess of Access over at Brand Autopsy

Kayak and PinPoint Changing the Face of Online Travel

A couple years back, I helped Orbitz.com redesign their shopping process. During that time, if you wanted to book travel the major players were Expedia and Travelocity, with Orbitz aiming to be the more usable, better-looking alternative.

Today, those three players are equally mature and equally less than compelling. They don’t capture all airlines and have yet to offer the recreational traveler’s dream: give me the cheapest flight to Brussels, anytime, any day, in the next 1, 3, and 6 months.

Enter Kayak.com. Think of it as Froogle for travel. Just the bare-minimum needed to start a travel search. If you want something a little sexier, check out Pinpoint Travel. Pinpoint uses Kayak’s engine and leverages the new AJAX web application model making a very interesting and helpful interface – like Google Suggests. Also, by asking me questions about my personal preferences, Pinpoint does an excellent job of keeping me engaged while it’s searching.

On the downside, AJAX relies heavily on Javascript so Pinpoint isn’t accessible and for some odd reason neither is Kayak.

Some of the Passengers, Some of the Time

“Go back in history. One of the first decisions an airline had to make was, Should we carry passengers or cargo? Whenever an airline came to that fork in the sky, they took both forks…” – Doc Searles

Doc makes an excellent point. Very few companies can successfully be all things to all customers. The big airlines are proving right now that this strategy is road paved with good intentions.

Contrast the airlines’ “both forks” strategy with this recent Business Week interview with Steve Jobs:

“…it comes from saying no to 1,000 things to make sure we don’t get on the wrong track or try to do too much. We’re always thinking about new markets we could enter, but it’s only by saying no that you can concentrate on the things that are really important.”

Tomorrow, say ‘No’ to keep focus on an ever expanding project, say ‘No’ to keep your company’s niche, and most importantly – say ‘No’ so you can spend dinner with your family this holiday.

Ten Ways to Rearrange Deck Chairs

American, Delta, United, and US Airway have either flirted with for filed for bankruptcy in the past 18 months. To provide some guidance in these tough times, Forbes suggests 10 Ways to Fix the Airline Mess.

Of the 10 suggestions, 8 are Repeating the Same Action, Expecting a New Result, – have the US government bail them out.

First off, this strategy have been attempted to varying degrees by the steel industry, the auto industry, the citrus industry (“There are a lot of people in Iraq who have never had orange juice”), oh, and yes the airline industry.

Secondly, a bail out by the US government is not a sustainable response to poor management or shifting market conditions. An effective solution is to listen to frequent fliers and return the mystique to jet travel. Wait, NetJets and Citation Shares have the luxury market and are doing well.

The two remaing suggestions from Forbes: streamlining security and de-Hub-ing are valuable solutions. These are clear, visible , changes that add value and convenience to travelers.

The Point-to-Point (vs. Hub) model seems to be working real well for at least two airlines not flying in red ink.

On-Board Wi-Fi

The last place for wireless to penetrate may actually be where the money is – according to this Forbes article:

Boeing plans to charge $30 for flights longer than six hours, $19.95 for flights of four to six hours, $14.95 for shorter flights and $9.95 for a 30-minute trial.

Continuous access from Munich to LA for $30? Definitely.

How about Munich to Tokyo? Definitely.

Wi-Fi is a valuable amenity and airlines should use this offering as a stepping stone to more specific and valuable customer offerings.

This may just be what carriers like United need to cruise into the black.

In a related story, Two Apple managers videoconference at 35k feet

In what might have been the first in-air commercial videoconference, Apple product manager Kurt Knight, on the ground in Cupertino, hooked up over iChat AV with product line manager Eric Zelenka, returning to San Francisco from Munich, by leveraging Lufthansa’s new wireless high-speed broadband connection service.

Hotel Room as Showroom

Hotels are now leveraging their experience comforting weary travelers and giving their guests the opportunity to take the hotel experience home.

Marginal Revolution points to a Forbes article documenting the Regency in Manhattan’s addition of price tags to their bath mats, pillows, and bath robes.

In a related development, Selelect Comfort recently announced a partnership with Carlson Hotels to replace 90,000 guest beds over the next 2 years with a custom-designed Sleep Number Bed.

As much as it’s a excellent way for “consumers to get a better night’s sleep away from home” it’s also a great way for consumer to have more experience with Select Comfort’s products. With the lifetime of matresses in the decades, capturing one more household is definitely benefical.