ClassPass for flights? This startup wants you to buy 1-Way trips like gym classes
If you want to access inexpensive flights without analyzing frequent flyer programs or doing the math on how credit card rewards stack up against card issuers’ annual fees, there is now an app for that. It’s smartphone-based booking of cheap one-way flat fares just for its subscribers.
When you join SkyHi, you’ll still pay a periodic fee. It’s a monthly membership charge that shifts the business model closer to ClassPass and its system of credits than credit card perks. That is, you’re buying access to a set number of flights, for $199 each month.
For your $199, you can book up to five flights a month, each no more than 10 days before the departure date. Trips up to 1000 miles cost $35; 1000 to 2000 miles cost $75; and 2000 to 3000 miles cost $120. There are 73 departure cities and 2,652 routes in North America and Europe.
The fine print: it is truly month-to-month but if you cancel and rejoin, you will pay $99. If you want to suspend your membership while not using it, you’ll pay $35 per month.
And there is no getting lucky on a flight that happens to have few first class and business bookings. For now, you’ll pay $35 to $120 for main cabin economy or basic economy.
SkyHi founder and chief executive Rama Poola created the company in what he thinks is the sweet spot between airlines’ need to offload excess inventory and an ever-more-nomadic population accustomed to every consumer product on demand.
His membership distribution is roughly 70% young professionals wanting a weekend away, 20% small business owners and a remaining 10% increasingly occupied by young retirees.
Poola decided to launch the company while in his last job, which required him to travel and to identify inefficiencies. He was in the Berlin airport in late 2015 when he struck up a conversation with a group who were stuck at the airport, unable to get a flight in their price range. They were simply waiting for something to fall below 50 euros. They eventually got a flight to Lisbon. Poola boarded his own plane home to New York and noticed many empty seats. He started sketching out a concept to connect those last-minute, price-sensitive travelers he’d just met with airlines who were eating a loss.
He pitched it to his cousin and now-cofounder and chief technical officer Vivek Poola the next day. The first year, 2016 to 2017, was sorting out operations and how they could interface with airlines to execute quick booking in a heavily regulated industry. A small private beta program in 2017 prepared them for a hard launch in March 2018.
The company was selected by well-publicized accelerator Techstars Mobility last July for its 2018 class.
To date, SkyHi has raised $995,000 on a convertible note and will seek a larger round this quarter. Techstars holds equity as part of its standard deal with all its accelerator selectees.
Though finding new users and accessing better flight bookings have so far kept the company from profitability Poola said, the company has “a clear path to it.” It’s posted about 15% month-over-month growth in the number of bookings by each subscriber, he said.
Next the company will expand into South America and Asia and offer additional plan structures. It will also develop a business-to-business side of the platform. “There’s definitely a market there,” Poola said.
SkyHi also plans to give consumers more social use of the platform, allowing friends to see what they’ve booked to easily synchronize itineraries, and to explore other cities based on their interests. “SkyHi has a great utility, but we want a feed that understands you,” Poola said. “You see that Art Basel’s going on. You want to get to Miami for $35.”