Yapta Will Be Awesome For Heavy Travelers

I don’t know what it is about Seattle and travel startups, but newcomer Yapta now joins Farecast and TripHub, two other startups we’ve been tracking from that cold, rainy place.

I saw a pre-launch demo of the company yesterday from co-founder and CEO Tom Romary. The site, which should launch around May 15, helps users find deals on flights and (later this year) hotels.

Yapta is very different from other travel sites. It is not hooked up directly to airlines’ systems (as Expedia and Oribitz are), nor is it essentially a search engine for low fares like Farecast. Instead, they’re using some of the ideas behind del.icio.us and bookmarking to create a potentially compelling new way for people to search for cheap flights.

The core of the Yapta service is a browser bookmarklet or addon that lets users “bookmark” fares that they find on major travel sites. At launch, ten airline and travel sites will be supported, many more will be added over time. See a flight you are interested in and bookmark it. The flight and fare information is then stored in your account at Yapta.

Find a number of different flight options at different sites, and then go back to Yapta to compare them. This is particularly useful when you fly Southwest or Jetblue, which do not provide flight information to other services. If the fare increases or decreases before you make a purchase, that will be reflected on the Yapta site.

If you make a purchase by clicking through to the airline or travel site from Yapta, they’ll continue to monitor the price. If it falls, they’ll ping you and suggest you contact the airline for a refund or flight coupon. All airlines offer these on price drops but few consumers follow up. Yapta will help by reminding you.

The company has quite a few sources of revenue. They collect affiliate fees from most airlines and sites if the user clicks through and purchases a previously bookmarked flight. There will be some advertising on the site, and Yapta will offer information on Travelzoo-like “deals” to users who opt in. Finally, for customers who are eligible to receive flight coupons for price drops, Yapta will offer to do all the work to get the coupon for a 10% fee (or a flat yearly subscription fee of $40).

In beta testing with 275 users over the last several months, Yapta found that 34% of purchased tickets became eligible for a refund. The average refund was 16% of the ticket price, or $85. During the beta period that worked out to a total of $28,900 in aggregate potential refunds, or about $100 per beta user. If Yapta can successfully tap into this refund pool and get a share, the numbers look good. More importantly, this is a great service for consumers, who rarely even bother to check for price drops. Users can also use just this feature of Yapta by entering in the flight information on the Yapta site – they are not required to use the Yapta service for research or buying beforehand. For a lot of users, just this one aspect of the service will be very compelling.

I know I’ll be using it.

See Erick Schonfeld for more. He also saw the Yapta demo and wrote about it a couple of days ago.