It all began with a college graduation trip. Sounds like the premise of a teen flick? Well, not quite – that’s actually how Taiwan-based travel startup HelloWings got its start.
Mark Hsu and his friends Ada Chao, April Wu and Peter Chen were planning a backpacking adventure to Australia. The computer science and IT students found that connecting through Kuala Lumpur with AirAsia could save a lot of money. But there was a problem – there were many flights connecting to other states within Australia.
“Being so bothered to move around, we decided to write a programme that scrapes all the airlines, then organises the data to systematically find the cheapest price,” Hsu explains via e-mail.
That little collegiate experiment led to HelloWings, a cross-budget airlines visualised comparator that specialises in low-cost carrier (LCC) meta search. It helps travellers compare airfares across various LCCs. Users simply enter their origin and destination, and leave the rest to HelloWings.
Hsu, who is HelloWings chief executive officer, admits that merging their programming knowledge with the aviation industry was a challenge.
“As we started this project in Malaysia on the way to Australia, there were only a handful of budget airlines to consider then. But other areas, such as Europe or Africa, has dozens of budget airlines. Some don’t even have a complete website!
“Understanding the entire airline ecosystem and their IT system took a while, but we wanted to create a complete coverage so regardless of where our travellers are going, they’re covered,” the 31-year-old says.
HelloWings’ Budget feature offers coverage of LCCs worldwide with real-time, year-round, and tax-inclusive prices organised in an easy-to-read chart.
Meanwhile, a second new feature, HybridConnect – an idea that originated from the company’s 12-week stint with AirAsia Group’s TuneLab Incubate programme – offers an LCC and full-service carriers (FCC) combination designed for long-distance travel.
HelloWings compares the fares from various airlines on a 365-day price chart. In order to do that, the platform employs a programme with crawlers (a web program) that retrieve the prices from each airline’s webpages, then store it all in HelloWings’ databases.
The crawlers are for budget airlines only. For traditional airlines, HelloWings connects through the Global Distribution System that most online travel agencies retrieve their prices from.
“We then analyse these prices to draw the 365-day price chart and combine them with traditional airlines’ prices to calculate ticket combinations that might be faster, cheaper, or just innovative in general. Our system uses algorithms that calculate literally every transfer spot and the flight to connect after that,” he further explains, adding that all prices displayed are inclusive of taxes.
With about 70,000 monthly active users back in January, Hsu hopes that HelloWings will be a tool that helps travellers book the cheapest flights.
“Even if you’re travelling on national holidays, we can tell you that taking just one day off – that is, a day before or after the holiday – can save you 30% off the total price,” he offers.
For instance, on the longer flights going to South America or Northern Europe, travellers will be able to connect their long Emirates flight with a short connection on Ryanair to reach their destination in a shorter duration.
But how are the savings actually obtained? Hsu says that the secret lies in allowing travellers to choose their own flight transfer combination.
“These types of transfer, or ‘interlining’ tickets, are where traditional airlines make huge profits, but even with a hefty price tag, these flights still require travellers to wait 20-something hours at the airport, being punished for going to a distant small location,” he explains.
Hsu adds that HybridConnect is giving that freedom to choose, back to the travellers. But the platform does offer traditional transfer combinations if some travellers can’t afford to be delayed or cancelled at all.
“But if the possibility of delaying for half a day or one day is acceptable, then they can save an average of 20% on their flights,” he offers.
Ultimately, Hsu says HelloWings aspires to add to a person’s travel experience by providing flexibility in one of the hardest parts of travel – finding flights.
“Now we want travellers to realise that flights don’t have to be manual anymore, no more pen and paper or Microsoft Excel, trying to outsmart matching your own flights. HelloWings is a free tool that does all the smart tricks for you. The perfect travel starts from the cheapest dates,” he concludes.