Booking different airlines on a single journey — for example, L.A. to London connecting in New York and split between United and British Airways — has long been a potent but potentially problematic way to save cash.
Fly the whole way on United, and you’re protected in case something goes wrong on the first leg. Book separately and you may well be SOL: Airline B isn’t obligated to help you out when Airline A screws up.
But Czech startup Kiwi.com, née SkyPicker, is building its business model on exploiting this situation — or as they put it, making use of “groundbreaking Virtual Interlining technology” to “combine flights from uncooperative airlines onto a single itinerary.” And they’ll guarantee your travel (within certain restrictions) in case of trouble. We’re also fans of a well-designed feature that allows searches for good fares within a specified distance from your hometown (aka “radius search”) — a handy option when you have a better sense of your budget than your destination.
We spoke with Sampsa Nuotio, Kiwi’s global brand manager, about the service.
InsideHook: If a cheap ticket is my priority, how is Kiwi able to beat better-known sources like Kayak or Orbitz?
Sampsa Nuotio: It's all about our tech that allows combining flights from airlines that wouldn't normally cooperate with each other. The choices offered to travelers by more conventional sites are often limited by the rigid cooperation agreements between airlines. Kiwi.com allows you to create a single itinerary out of, let's say, flights from two or more different low-cost airlines, which can result in massive savings. And, should things go south due to a delayed or cancelled flight, we've got our customers covered with the Kiwi.com Guarantee.
IH: How, exactly, does the guarantee work? Do I call Kiwi and they book me on another flight?
SN: The first step is always to contact Kiwi.com immediately before taking any other action. We review every case individually and strive to find the best solution for the customer, as fast a possible. Often this is us booking a replacement flight on our expense, but when suitable flights are not available, we may offer the customer a full refund. [Editor’s note: a refund may not be what you want when you booked a cheap ticket three months ago and a new ticket would cost significantly more.]
IH: If the first delay results in a forced overnight stay, am I (or my travel insurance) responsible for lodging costs or will Kiwi assume those expenses?
SN: In the case of a forced overnight stay, we will cover accommodation and food expenses for up to 50 EUR per night (against receipts). [Editor’s note: 50€ will go far in some cities — others, not so much.]
IH: The efficacy and ease of the date-range search is impressive.
SN: Personally I just love setting my destination as “Anywhere” and browsing the prices on the interactive map to find cool and affordable destinations that wouldn't normally even cross my mind. Radius search through the map is often very useful as well — especially for people living close to several major airports, or for travelers looking to explore a region and not just a single city.
For another take on travel hacking, see our piece on the tetchy, techy, but worthwhile ITA Matrix.