Volantio, a startup that helps airlines rebook flexible passengers on emptier flights, said on Monday it had signed investment and commercial deals with Amadeus, the travel technology giant.

Amadeus’ startup investment program, Amadeus Ventures, will take a stake in the Atlanta-based startup.

The companies did not disclose the terms of the deal. Volantio last year closed a $2.6 million series B funding round. Investors included International Airlines Group (IAG), JetBlue Technology Ventures (JTV), and Qantas Ventures.

Amadeus will introduce Volantio to its customers and provide a faster technical path for them to integrate with its services than might otherwise be available.

Volantio already helps Alaska Airlines, Iberia, Qantas, and four other carriers minimize unsold seats.

Finding Hidden Demand

Volantio helps airlines pinpoint flexible passengers on full flights using machine learning and historical data. It then prompts these travelers to volunteer to move to a less crowded flight in exchange for a perk, such as frequent flyer miles or a travel voucher.

Case in point: On June 1, the Champions League soccer, or football, final took place in Madrid.

“This was not something that an airline revenue management system could have predicted ahead of time, and the demand for flights from London to Madrid spiked as soon as the teams made it to the finals,” said Volantio CEO Azim Barodawala. “Most airlines would not have had any way to react to try and service the increased demand.”

Iberia used Volantio’s platform to send offers to customers on the most popular flights around the big game. It texted to ticketed passengers the chance to receive vouchers as a reward for moving to other, less crowded flights.

By switching flights, passengers stepped forward as being less interested in the championship and freed up seats for the fans.

Several fans were thus able to fly to Madrid who probably wouldn’t have otherwise, said an airline spokesperson.

Amadeus Integration

Amadeus will indirectly help Volantio with sales as part of a commercial deal.

More than 120 carriers run key parts of their operations on the Altéa passenger service system. Amadeus will now enable interested carriers a speedier path to plugging into Volantio via their system, said Altaf Rizvi, head of partnerships, airlines.

The deal should reduce the typical implementation time for many airlines from several months to several weeks, said Barodawala.

However, Volantio remains compatible with all of the significant passenger services systems in the market, he said, noting that it will continue to connect with carriers who are not Amadeus customers.

Volantio was one of a handful of investments Amadeus’ corporate venture arm has made after having screened about 2,500 startups over five years, said Suzanna Chiu, head of Amadeus Ventures.

“We have several ways we can give Volantio more exposure to our airline partners, such as taking Volantio to selected customer events and making referrals when requested,” said Chiu.

air pitch at skift global forum Volantio founders CEO Azim Barodawala and chief technology officer Fenn Bailey

Volantio co-founders CEO Azim Barodawala (foreground) and chief technology officer Fenn Bailey accept their award during the Air Pitch competition at Skift Global Forum 2018 at the Mandarin Oriental ballroom in New York City. Source: Skift

Pitch Champion

Volantio founders CEO Azim Barodawala and chief technology officer Fenn Bailey won the Accenture Amadeus Alliance Air Pitch startup competition during the Skift Global Forum in September 2018.

Their prize included a development sprint at the Accenture Amadeus Alliance‘s innovation center in Dublin.

“The development sprint let our team learn from real subject matter experts who have mastered how airline revenue management works from the product, engineering, and commercial perspectives,” said Barodawala. “That was super-valuable because we, like most startups, don’t have easy access to how airlines think about various problems.”

“We got a few insights from the sprint that we wouldn’t have gotten otherwise,” said Barodawala. “One was that we learned to think beyond the inventory of individual flights. We discovered there are opportunities all along the booking curve if we can connect and make the most of airline revenue management systems.”

In March Volantio took part in, and won, a startup pitch competition at Amadeus´ T3CH conference in Madrid. It’s one of a few such competitions that Volantio has performed well in.

What are some lessons the startup has learned from pitch competitions?

“At a tactical level, entrepreneurs often underestimate how much they need to practice,” said Barodawala. “The bright lights and distractions of these events can throw anyone off their game.”

“More strategically, founders need to tell a story,” said Barodawala.

“I’ve been to too many pitch events where entrepreneurs repeat a standard speech full of B-school jargon,” said Barodawala. “The founders that I’ve seen who are much more effective than that are the ones that figured out what pain points are in the hearts of a specific audience and then told a story that showed they had empathy and clarity of purpose in addressing that pain point.”

Skift named Volantio one of last year’s top startups to watch. We’ll continue to monitor the startup’s progress now that it has gotten backing from the world’s largest travel tech company.

Photo Credit: A view of the Atlanta office of Volantio, a travel tech startup that has received backing from Amadeus. Volantio