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Expedia has led a flurry of travel startup investments in recent months, just last week investing in hotel platform Alice and this week announced it led an $11 million investment in airport ride startup Wingz.
Expedia has conceivably bought up everything it can after its most recent acquisition of HomeAway in November and it’s now making a wide range of investments across different sectors of travel such as in Wingz. The San Francisco-based company is a mobile app for scheduling and booking private rides to and from airports and was founded in 2011. It’s finalizing plans to launch on Expedia where travelers will also be able to book a Wingz ride on Expedia just as they’d book a rental car after booking a flight.
Think of a car service, but with an app instead of an 800 number.
Wingz’s total funding now stands at $13.7 million after this week’s $11 million Series B round which saw participation from Altimeter Capital and Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff as well as Expedia.
“Wingz offers a unique experience for getting to and from airports,” said Nikki Krishamurthy, Expedia’s vice president of Expedia Local Expert, in a statement. “We have found that travelers really want the security of scheduled rides. Expedia and Wingz share a common goal of delighting customers through a stress-free travel experience.”
The Wingz Model
With Wingz, a driver shows up, a traveler hops in and both parties travel to their destinations while tracking everything through the Wingz app. It’s live at 18 U.S. airports, mostly on the west coast such as Los Angeles and San Francisco International Airports but also at larger bases further east like Denver and Dallas/Fort Worth International Airports.
That description echoes the models of existing players Uber and Lyft except that Wingz says it’s targeting travelers who are less spontaneous and plan ahead for rides–particularly business travelers. Wingz CEO Chris Brandon told Skift his company’s larger scope is being a disintermediate to the private town car market more than wanting to disrupt Uber’s business, for example.
Drivers track travelers’ flight schedules and know when flights land and send notifications for where to meet drivers in front of terminals. Wingz also makes recommendations for pick-up times based on a traveler’s flight itinerary.
“Our business model doesn’t require the immense amount of capital that on-demand ride-hailing service demands,” said Brandon. “We’re about really relieving the stress of travelers through pre-scheduled experiences…[your driver] can even track your flight for you.”
“We’re substantially cheaper than a town car that many business travelers can’t justify the expense for and we want to provided a more personalized experience than you’d get with Uber or Lyft. We’re not the service provider because we’re a technology platform, but we’re trying to facilitate the drivers to create more personalized service to riders.”
Getting Approval at Airports
Winning approval for anything at airports can take years and some proposals never get the green light–an Uber patent proposing a similar model to Wingz’s was rejected last year. UberX only gained approval to pick-up travelers at Los Angeles International Airport last week.
Brandon said Wingz can currently drop-off travelers at Los Angeles, Denver, Dallas/Fort Worth, Phoenix Sky Harbor and Seattle-Tacoma International Airports and expects the permit for allowing pick-up service at those airports “any day.”
But as of now it’s more a prospect than a reality.
Brandon also claims Wingz is anywhere from 20 to 50% cheaper than the average private town car ride to or from an airport.
“We’re competitive with Uber and Lyft but we’re not necessarily trying to match their pricing,” said Brandon. “We’re also looking at the taxi industry and Uber and Lyft’s pricing and the entire landscape making sure we’re value priced for the service that we’re offering…We believe there is a huge market opportunity to reshape an airport transportation market that currently saddles travelers with unpredictable costs and hassles.”
Focusing on Business Travel
Wingz is configuring its platform to make it easier for business travelers to expense their rides and make the backend at the end of their travel easier to manage.
“Our target demographic is the business traveler, but of course we also service leisure travelers,” said Brandon. “We’ll potentially be launching something international late this year. We do have plans to start to spread across the country…we’ll clearly be migrating west to east. A lot of that has to do with the permitting environment at each airport and the other part of it is where our partners would prefer for us to focus.”
Brandon added Wingz has nearly 20,000 drivers in backlog and stressed that drivers can pre-book their week unlike those on other ride-sharing apps. He estimates drivers can earn up to $40 per hour and there’s no cap to how many rides they can take or how much they can earn.