Finding flight deals can be a challenge, even at a time when there are dozens of online tools, websites and apps intended to help users find the best deals.
A big part of the problem is that the best deals—often the result of flash sales and mistakes—tend to disappear pretty fast.
Now San Francisco-based BoltFare is trying to make finding those deals a little easier.
“BoltFare is simply an AI-powered travel agent, we’re helping users find these very, very cheap flights,” says Colin Armstrong, the company’s founder.
Users can talk to BoltFare via SMS or Facebook Messenger in plain English, telling it where they want to go and when they want to travel. BoltFare then searches for cheap flights that match the criteria, alerting the user when it finds one.
“These deals could last anywhere from just a few minutes to a few days, so it’s important to be pretty quick in order to pick up these deals,” Armstrong says.
Eventually, Armstrong wants BoltFare users to give the platform permission to buy their flights for them. That way, an unchecked message won’t lead to a missed deal.
If a user isn’t happy with the flight, Armstrong says, they can always cancel their ticket.
In the United States, government regulations require airlines to give customers a full refund if they cancel their purchase within 24-hours. Many major carriers serving Canada have similar policies.
Because BoltFare plans to help people find extremely low fares, it’s aimed at travellers who have some flexibility about when, and even where, they want to travel.
“Our platform is more about monitoring and then letting you know when the cheapest flights become available, rather than something like Google Flights or Skyscanner,” he says, “where I expect to book a flight right away.”
After all, there just might not be a great deal for a specific flight on a specific day. By expanding the search to multiple destinations—and travel dates—the odds go up.
While this might seem like a competitive disadvantage for BoltFare, it does provide something that’s missing on existing online travel search platforms – the ability to set some broad parameters and find the best deal within them.
Finding the cheapest flight to the Caribbean this winter, for instance, takes a lot of searching and the results of that search can change in moments.
BoltFare will be launching a closed alpha version in mid-December. That stage will help train the bot before moving on to a beta.
He already has a lot of interest. He says almost 1,000 people signed up for BoltFare in the first 12-hours that his website was launched.
“The amount of traction that we’ve got pre-launch certainly shows that we’re going in the right direction,” says Armstrong.
The plan is to launch the completed app within the first three months of 2017.
“The long-term goal is to establish enough trust with our customers to become a travel agent from start to finish,” he says. “We hope to analyze the flights they’ve been booking and then provide recommendations.”