Munich Startup: The last time we spoke in 2017, you said Flyla needed to get a handle on the high demand. Were you able to reach that goal?
Ben Shaw, CEO of Flyla: To meet demand at that time, we had built a student travel portal: lots of partners for a comprehensive offer. We quickly counted our first 12,000 users that we offered flights and hotels to.
Flyla: Waking up from covid hibernation
Munich Startup: And then came covid. Apart from the pandemic, what obstacles have you encountered along the way?
Ben Shaw: In the early stages of covid, no one knew how long the crisis would last. We were struggling with lots of refunds, but at the same time, we were at a booking peak. He had to let Flyla go into covid hibernation. But that was actually difficult for us.
At the beginning of last year, we launched Flyla again, with a new team initially. Then with new partnerships, a new booking process and finally with new approaches to marketing. That all took time.
Added value for customers and airlines
Munich Startup: How has your solution evolved?
Ben Shaw: The travel market is highly competitive. Nevertheless, there are some niches that suffer from a lack of transparency and where a tremendous amount of added value can be created for customers.
One of those niches is student flights. A lot of students don’t know that the majority of airlines – over 70 percent in Europe – already have student programs. Those programs were often developed at a time when airlines had specific marketing for travel agencies and offered special fares to attract students in the travel agencies close to universities.
However, since very few airlines have focused on that for quite some time, most of the rates aren’t particularly attractive or competitive. There are even some cases where the student rate is more expensive than the standard price.
That’s why our approach is different. We’ve now integrated almost every airline that offers student fares into Flyla.com (such as Lufthansa, Turkish Airlines and KLM). We even go one step further and let airlines take this target group into consideration for what is known as load factor optimization. That means that instead of just giving a two percent discount on each seat, airlines can offer cheap seats to students shortly before departure on routes that are often not filled to capacity. The standard price can still go up and bring in profit for the airlines. As a result, fewer seats remain empty and students can fill the otherwise empty seats at prices they can afford.
In addition to Eurowings, we’re now using the same model with Norwegian, SAS and ITA to meet the demand for cheap flights for students.
A higher margin with CO2 compensation
Munich Startup: And how are things looking for you financially?
Ben Shaw: It’s not uncommon for an online travel portal for flight sales to earn just a few cents from each flight sold. In contrast, the fact that our added value goes beyond flight sales to other travel partners – with embedded student authentication and automatic CO2 compensation – allows us to achieve a much higher take rate. And we benefit from the exceptional environment in the travel industry and from the fact that so many people want to take a break. Especially now that it’s possible to travel again.
Munich Startup: What lessons have you learned so far in the founding team?
Ben Shaw: We learned an incredible number of lessons in the last few months:
- Our new design was received well,
- the integration of additional payment options, including PayPal, has led to further customer acquisition,
- our social media strategy now accounts for a third of our growth,
- and because we automatically compensate for CO2, many of our customers don’t shy away from taking domestic flights, which are not only up to 80 percent cheaper than the standard price, but also more comfortable and, above all, faster than a train.
Flyla: “Munich has helped us tremendously”
Munich Startup: What role has the Munich ecosystem played on your path so far?
Ben Shaw: Munich has helped us tremendously. We’re closely linked with the Vitolus Group, which, after successfully helping to combat the pandemic with its testing and vaccination offers, is now advancing other health issues such as outpatient care and the purchasing of medical consumables. Our office on Schwanthalerstraße has become a hotspot for new ideas and startup meetings – for example with the Lotaro team. And our networks, which originated from the LMU and TUM, have actively supported us.
Munich Startup: What milestones are you working towards next?
Ben Shaw: We’ve expanded the offer side. There are more inexpensive student tickets on offer than ever before. Now it’s a matter of continuing to expand business, getting more partners on board with our model and making the student flight market more transparent than ever before.