Industry professionals understand that group airfare is likely the most unique and complicated product that airlines sell. It's built for group organizers who need to secure large blocks of space and have a lot of flexibility in payment and cancellation.
Often, people will compare what we are doing at Bacarai to Expedia or Google Flights. On the surface, the products look similar. However, under the hood, there is a world of difference.
Let’s dive into the consideration our product team made when building the world’s first online marketplace for group airfare.
The first technical challenge our team had to overcome was the ability to understand seat availability for planes. The average airplane holds roughly about 170 seats. Internally, our average group size is 35 passengers with our customers requesting space 6-10 months prior to departure.
Google Flights and Expedia have a ceiling of 9 passengers, meaning you can’t search rates and availability for greater. The first thing our engineering team needed to accomplish was to smash through the barrier of 9 passengers.
Purchasing group airfare is NOTHING like buying a single ticket in regard to payment. Group airfare payment is accomplished in three stages, spanning over several months:
Step 1: signing a contract to secure the space.
Step 2: within 14 days of signing the contract, the user owes a $50 per person deposit.
Step 3: within 30 days prior to travel, the user owes the final balance and names list of all the travelers for ticketing.
One of the common questions we get is, “why doesn’t Expedia do this?”
And while that answer gets complicated, the simple truth is that group airfare needs to be a standalone product due to the uniqueness and flexibility group contracts provide. In Expedia’s world, the customer picks a flight, pays for the flight in full, and the ticket is issued. The entire transaction spans a few minutes.
In Bacarai’s world, the customer picks a flight, has to sign a contract, pay a deposit, be reminded about utilization, submit a passenger list, make final payment, and ticket the group. The entire group’s transactions span several months with multiple interactions between customer and airline.
We’ve automated all of the major milestones of group airfare that previously required a phone call between the customer and airline.
Any good product team will tell you, “defaults matter.” To create a fast, user-centered shopping experience, we had to understand our customers’ unique needs. When you search a flight on Google Flights, Google recommends what it believes are the three best flights. These options are usually slanted towards direct routes and lowest price-- regardless of time.
Google made a reasonable assumption for its users. Leisure travelers are usually in search of the lowest price.
And while group customers want low prices, group customers are also extremely sensitive to time of departure. Most groups are forced to maximize their time at their destination.
For example, a group flying to Orlando may have an event at 4:00pm on their departure day. This eliminates the ability for an afternoon flight.
Time really matters to groups. Our most common departure and return time pattern at Bacarai is an AM departure with a PM return.
So the default of our search results break up the flight options by time of day. Of course, should you want to shop another way, you can easily change the filter.
If you haven’t got the jist by now, flying as a part of a group contract is unique and more involved from the trip organizers standpoint than your single published fare. While there are some general accepted standards for group contract terms & conditions, there are little nuisances between airlines.
For example, Southwest will allow you to book an entire plane.
On the contrary, American Airlines usually puts a cap on how many group passengers it will fly.
One of the great benefits about using group contracts is the cancellation policies. For most airlines, group fares are refundable all the way up until the utilization date, which is generally 90 days prior to departure.
Should you cancel inside of 90 days (but before ticketing, which happens at 30 days), you simply lose your deposit.
All of these rules had to be hardcoded into our airline rules engine.
If you have dealt with building airline products, you’ll know that most platforms connect to one of the large GDS providers (Sabre, Amadeus, Travelport). There are also a whole host of newer entrants who are taking advantage of a new standard called NDC.
Standard connections allow you to make API calls for between 6 to 9 passengers and get a rate. Since group contracts start at ten passengers flying together, there needs to be innovation in order for the product to be useful.
While we believe this to be the early days of group airfare’s digital maturation, it's an important first step to provide customers with group rates so they can shop fares side by side.
The alternative is bad for the airlines and customers. Should customers be forced to shop in a siloed manner, they will hold space as they contact the airlines. This causes the airlines to release large blocks of space to customers who have a low intent of following through with the booking.