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Many people have dreams of traveling the globe, but the high price of airfare often gets in the way.
That's exactly what happened to Oliver Dlouhý and Lucie Brešová. The couple was looking to take a trip from Prague to Portugal, but were unable to afford the steep prices. Determined to make this trip happen, they spent five days researching and booking multiple flights that got them to their destination after a few stopovers for significantly less money. That's when an idea hit them.
"I thought that if I could do it, why couldn't we make a site that helped other people find cheaper airfare without having to take days of research," Dlouhý told TODAY.com. That simple idea has turned into Skypicker, a site where users are able to combine flights for fares up to 90 percent cheaper than traditional search methods, including those employed by sites like Kayak and Orbitz. And three years after being founded, the Czech Republic-based company has been focusing on its U.S. customers for the past six months to offer them incredible domestic and international deals.
So what makes the site different from its competitors?
The founders said they've developed an algorithm that uses all carriers, so your itinerary can include connections with airlines that don't cooperate with each other, unlike standard searches. The result is a series of cheap, connecting flights to get you where you want to go.
You just need to make sure you have extra time to get there — since you're essentially paying with time instead of money: On average there's one layover each way for short trips and two for long ones.
And while you get lower fares, you also take on the risk of delays or missed flights where the airline won't automatically rebook you. "That's why we have our Skypick guarantee," said Dlouhý, now the CEO of the company. "There's a risk that if the first flight is delayed, it wouldn't be covered. So, we make sure to rebook the next flight free of charge."
Initially the startup was just a handful of employees, and there were customer complaints about long wait times for rebooking. The now 300-employee company says it's something they continually work to fix. "Customer service is important," said Dlouhý. "In the beginning the service wasn't that good, but we took the feedback and are trying to make the waiting for them as easy as possible and have added features like paying for a hotel if there is a long wait to rebook."
Their site isn't the first to take on a new model that competes with major booking companies like Expedia and Travelocity. Similar cheap fare hunting sites like Skiplagged were created using a unique algorithm where you book a multi-stop itinerary with the intention of not flying all the way to the end because your destination is technically the layover. This is known as a "hidden city" fare. United Airlines and Orbitz sued the company last year for "unfair competition" and said that it's promoting "strictly prohibited" travel. The founder, Aktarer Zaman, maintained his position that his site was legal and the case has been dismissed for procedural decisions for now.
But, could Skypicker be targeted next? "It's a different model," Dlouhý notes. "We are combining airlines that don't officially work together to get the lower fares. It's completely legal. We are changing the market a lot. The fact that we are growing so fast is a product of the fact that the customers want it. Competitors will have to react to that eventually."