Freebird – Disrupting Flight Disruptions

Freebird – Disrupting Flight Disruptions

Ethan Bernstein and his friends were returning to Boston after a weekend trip to Colorado when the flight his friends were booked on was cancelled. Ethan’s friends were left stranded at the airport as their automatically rebooked flight was scheduled to depart 35 hours later. As attempts to reach the call center were unsuccessful, his friends were forced to either shell out money for new tickets or book hotel rooms. With over a hundred thousand flights being disrupted every month, the story of Ethan’s friends repeats itself on a daily basis. Determined to solve this problem, Ethan partnered with Sam Zimmerman in July 2015 to co-found Freebird, a Cambridge, MA-based travel tech startup, that helps travellers rebook flight tickets when faced with a disruption.


The Freebird Solution

Freebird has two separate offerings – for leisure travellers (self-managed) and for businesses (managed). After having bought their flight ticket, self-managed travellers can go to the Freebird website and ‘purchase’ the Freebird service. The travellers enter the details of their flight as well as their personal details provided while booking the ticket. This information helps Freebird track the flight for disruptions and keep the traveller’s details ready in the event of a rebooking.

For the business offering, Freebird works directly with corporates and Travel Management Companies (TMCs). While booking a ticket, travel managers can ‘apply’ Freebird to an employee’s travel. In the event of a disruption, the employee is able to rebook the flight using Freebird.

Freebird’s mobile flight rebooking solution allows travellers facing disruption to rebook tickets with 3 simple taps without an app or download. When a flight is disrupted, Freebird sends the traveller an alert via email or text with a link. Upon clicking the link, a browser tab opens up with a list of all available flights to the traveller’s destination ordered by time of arrival. The traveller can select the option that works best. After selecting the desired flight, the next screen shows the traveller his/her booking details that were provided while purchasing/applying Freebird. After reviewing it, the traveller can book the flight by pressing ‘book flight’ at the bottom. Once the ticket is booked, a confirmation email with the ticket is sent to the traveller. With 3 simple taps, the traveller can successfully rebook a flight without the hassle of waiting in line or trying to reach someone at a call center.

For their service, Freebird charges a prior fee. Currently, they are charging a fixed promotional fee of $19 for a one-way flight and $34 for a roundtrip with a dynamic pricing model in the works. In the event of a disruption, which the company defines as a cancellation or delay of over 4 hours or a missed connection due to a delay, Freebird pays for the traveller’s new ticket. If there is no disruption, Freebird keeps the money. As flights run mostly without issue, the company gets to make a profit, apart from averaging out the pay-out for new tickets. The dynamic pricing model will help price the fees more appropriately after considering the risk of the flight based on numerous factors such as origin, destination, duration, and seasonal factors.

Not a travel insurance

While Freebird’s model may make it seem like travel insurance, it technically isn’t and is different in many ways. Travel insurance covers a wider range of events such as medical, hotels and baggage loss among other things, while Freebird only focuses on getting the traveller a new ticket. As no additional payments are required once Freebird has been purchased, travellers avoid the temporary burden of expenditure and the hassle of filing claims and getting reimbursed that come with insurance. On the pricing front, domestic travel insurance costs upwards of $30 while Freebird is priced significantly lower at $19.

Freebird has been mindful of the dynamic nature of travel. Apart from accommodating changes in the itinerary, Freebird also allows travellers to rebook to alternate airports arriving at the same city. To cover instances where a flight is disrupted and Freebird hasn’t sent the traveller an alert, a dedicated support team based in the US has been put in place to respond to travellers. Travellers can also get frequent flier miles on their rebooked tickets by providing Freebird with their frequent flier number. However, Freebird’s services are currently available only on domestic flights and have to be purchased at least two days prior to departure.

Flying Into The Future

A 2010 study by Berkeley estimated that flight delays and cancellations cost the US economy over $32.9B (2007), $8B shy of a Senate Joint Economic Committee’s estimate of $40.7B (2007). While airlines and passengers are the two parties directly involved, businesses face an adverse impact in terms of increased costs and productivity losses.

Freebird is focusing on the business travel market to drive growth. Over the past 18 months, the company has tied up with over 100 corporate clients and 10 TMCs such as BCD Travel, Adelman, Atlas Travel and Altour among others. Freebird’s API developed in 2016 helps integrate their services into the partners’ existing infrastructure without causing any disruption.

In October, Freebird raised $8M in a series A round led by American Express Ventures. The round saw participation from new investors such as CitiVentures and PAR Capital Ventures as well as existing investors General Catalyst and Accomplice. The team intends to deploy these funds to grow their business travel offering. At its current pace, the company is on pace to protect over 250,000 travellers annually. Freebird’s approach to solving the disruption problem has won itself traction and recognition in the industry from the likes of Business Travel New and Skift.

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