Seatfrog’s auction app lets you grab a last-minute flight upgrade on the cheap

From time-to-time here at TechCrunch, we see companies tackle problems or painpoints in a way that makes you wonder why it wasn’t done long ago. Travel tech startup Seatfrog from Australia is one that gives me that feeling.

The company’s brief is fairly simple, and admittedly somewhat #firstworldproblem-y: giving airplane passengers an opportunity to pay to upgrade their seat.

You often hear plenty of tips about how to get upgraded to business class — “dress smart,” “arrive early,” etc — but Seatfrog wants to truly democratize things by letting passengers pay to play the upgrade game. With Seatfrog, you simply add your flight to the app to get entered into an auction for an upgrade. The app notifies you once the bidding started and, just like eBay or similar services, he/she who bides highest wins out.

The benefit for airlines is that otherwise unused inventory brings in revenue, while, for passengers, you can get a business class, or higher, seat for a fraction of the regular cost.

Seatfrog CEO and co-founder Iain Griffin said he got the idea when trying to upgrade a flight from Australia to London. He found himself frustrated by the usual “sporadic and random” process and decided to do something about alongside co-founders Ben Ient (COO) and Dirk Stewart (CTO). Side note: each of the team is over 6 feet tall so well accustomed to the need to upgrade.

One of the key parts to what Seatfrog offers is the timing of an upgrade.

“We know people aren’t interested in upgrades two or three months ahead of their flight,” Griffin said in a phone interview. “But if you’re flying at 6pm and get notification at midday? That’s different.”

Griffin explained that Seatfrog is integrating with airlines to give them absolute control. Rather than a lottery for whatever is left over, they have the option to allocate some seats to frequent flyers or other VIPs and release what they want to Seatfrog users. Likewise, they can set reserve prices on seats if they wish.

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Beyond that, though, Seatfrog’s big argument is that it gives airlines the ability to reach all customers that take a flight.

“As of now, airlines can only target direct bookings [customers who have booked via their website or directly, which represents] just 30 percent of their market,” Griffin explained. “We can help them tap into the travel agent network. Airlines are so excited about what we’re bringing to market.”

‘Bringing’ is the key phrase here because Seatfrog isn’t universally available yet. The service is being trialled in Australia, but Griffin declined to reveal which airline(s) have partnered up. He’s optimistic of an official launch before the end of the year.

Seatfrog raised $860,000 from Australia-based Howzat Partners earlier this year, and Griffin said there are no immediate plans for more.

“We raised money for the people and network,” he said. “Raising again is not an immediate thought in our mind but we’ve had a lot of interest [and] it all depends on the milestones we hit.”

Scaling its product is clearly going to be a challenge for Seatfrog, but I’m pretty interested to see how this goes — bidding on upgrades makes complete sense and is a win-win for all involved.