Skift Take

The pandemic has taken its toll on many businesses, but relationships also falter in times of stress.

American Express Global Business Travel has parted ways with Lola, the corporate travel booking (and more latterly expense) app founded by Kayak co-founder Paul English.

The split comes three years into a five-year exclusive deal, which was based around a revenue-sharing arrangement. It also permitted Amex GBT to purchase equity from Lola should the partnership prove lucrative. “I’d be very happy if GBT ends up owning a lot of Lola,” said English at the time.

However, the company this week announced it had shut down its current service.

“We have some exciting news about the next phase for Lola.com, but we have to shut down our current service for now, to make way for new things coming soon,” it said on its website. Lola said it can no longer honour requests for bookings or trip assistance, and directs enquiries to Amex GBT.

Amex GBT confirmed to Skift that its customers would no longer be using Lola, and that the partnership had ended.

One Too Many Apps?

The partnership termination comes just months after Amex GBT launched its spend management platform, Neo1, in the U.S. after a year-long trial in the UK.

With a focus on expenses, it represented a significant break from the agency’s typical travel management offering, and was built for smaller companies that probably don’t care that much about travel.

Sound familiar? Lola pushed into expenses in October last year, with Lola Spend, and recently promoted itself as a “financial operations platform.”

Other corporate travel agencies also dived into expenses, mostly notably TripActions with its Liquid platform.

Was it efficient for Amex GBT to continue promoting another travel management platform after announcing its intention to acquire Egencia, or working with another expense platform after launching Neo1?

“With the release of Neo1 in the US, we now fully support small and medium-sized enterprises looking for an end-to-end, consumerized solution for travel, expense and spend,” said Evan Konwiser, executive vice president product and strategy at Amex GBT.

“All existing Lola users have transitioned to Neo1 and will continue to enjoy the comprehensive and unique travel content, superior service, and complete digital solution that come with the powerful backing of American Express Global Business Travel.”

Will Lola refocus on payments and expenses only for its next phase?

Meanwhile, another business travel platform, Upside Travel again founded by an online travel agency veteran, Jay Walker (founder of Priceline) has closed down.

“Due to the ongoing impact of the pandemic on the travel industry, Upside has decided to shut down its business after six years,” the company said. “Unfortunately, lingering uncertainty about when and if business travel will return to pre-pandemic levels has made raising additional capital or finding an alternative path too unlikely at this point.”

Like Lola, it had a relationship with a larger agency, as was 25 percent owned by Flight Centre Travel Group. Upside didn’t appear to have gone down the expense pathway like many of its peers.

On Wednesday, Flight Centre’s Corporate Traveler division, which caters to startups and mid-market businesses, launched a new travel management platform called Melon.

“Always know who you are going to partner with, and when they have their own technology, said Gavin Smith, director of Element Technology, “it’s going to be a risk that they build what they are using you for.”

Upside and Flight Centre did not respond to a request for comment.

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Tags: american express global business travel, expense management, flight centre, kayak, lola, priceline, travel management, upside

Photo Credit: Amex GBT has confirmed to Skift that its customers would no longer be using Lola, and that the partnership had ended. Benjamin Voros / Unsplash

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