Technology

Five questions with... HelloWings

The co-founders of HelloWings (from left) April Wu, Ada Chao, Mark Hsu and Peter Chen struck upon the idea for their company after they had some difficulty finding cheap flights for their graduation trip to Australia. Their website service can tell a
The co-founders of HelloWings (from left) April Wu, Ada Chao, Mark Hsu and Peter Chen struck upon the idea for their company after they had some difficulty finding cheap flights for their graduation trip to Australia. Their website service can tell a user the dates on which an airline is offering its cheapest tickets for a particular route.PHOTO: HELLOWINGS

A group of friends from Taiwan - Mark Hsu, Ada Chao, April Wu and Peter Chen - were planning a big trip to Australia for their graduation trip and ended up starting a company called HelloWings that helps travellers find out when airlines are selling the cheapest tickets for any particular route so that trips can be planned around those dates. Yasmine Yahya speaks with Mr Hsu on how the company plans to disrupt the travel industry.

Q How did it all begin?

A We wanted to do a grand tour of Australia for our graduation trip. We were students, so our time was flexible. We didn't need to book flights on certain dates; we could travel any time in October or November. What mattered most to us was that we got the cheapest flights possible.

So, we started searching for cheap flights and that's when we realised how hard it was. We had many flights to think about, both international and domestic.

We had to do a lot of searches to figure out which dates we should fly on to get the cheapest flights. So, as computer science graduates, it got us thinking: Could we use our abilities to build a price chart that would visually show a user the cheapest dates on which to fly? That was the beginning.

Q So that's what HelloWings does?

A Yes. When you get to the website you don't have to enter any travel dates, as you would on other travel sites. So, you can just say, I want to go to Osaka. Then we'll show you every single budget airline that flies there. And then, you can choose to see each airline's two-week, one-month, three-month, half-year and full-year price charts for these flights.

Let's say you call up an airline's three-month chart. There will be dots on the graph that show you the lowest fare being offered by the airline to Osaka, with all taxes and fees included, in that entire three-month period.

THE MECHANICS BEHIND THE SERVICE

We have exclusive technology, crawlers that mimic human behaviour. They go to each airline's website and retrieve the prices for every single flight that the airline is offering for the next 365 days. So that's why we're able to put out so many dates and accurate prices.

MR MARK HSU

So, at one glance, you'll see when you should book your leave to take advantage of the airline's cheapest fares, and you might be able to save 30 to 40 per cent on the airfare as a result.

Our service is particularly useful for trips where you have to make a transfer.

Usually, when you book a flight that has two legs, you'll book both on the same airline. That's where airlines mark up the prices.

Let's say you want to fly from Taipei to Melbourne, which always requires a transit. Since we have so much price data, we might fly you from Taipei to Singapore on Jetstar airlines, and then from Singapore to Melbourne on Scoot.

Bringing such combinations together is where customers can save over 20 per cent on airfare.

Q How do you get all that airfare information?

A We have exclusive technology, crawlers that mimic human behaviour. They go to each airline's website and retrieve the prices for every single flight that the airline is offering for the next 365 days.

So that's why we're able to put out so many dates and accurate prices. We track about 300 airlines in total and nearly every budget airline across the five continents.

Q What's next for HelloWings?

A We started off by offering users data on low-cost carriers (LCCs) only.

We have just launched a new feature, Hybrid Connect, which combines airfare data from both LCCs and traditional airlines.

How it works is, if you are taking a long trip, say from Asia to Europe, we will show you the best combinations - fly the long leg on a traditional airline and the short leg on an LCC.

And by doing that, we help you save 20 to 50 per cent on the total airfare.

Our new site, beta.hellowings.com, combines all sorts of flight combinations and the system will display the best combinations according to the origin and destination that the user is searching. As the name suggests, beta HelloWings still has some glitches but it is being improved every minute by our development team.

The old site, hellowings.com, is still open for those who wish to search for budget airlines only.

We are also launching a booking system at the end of this month. So, if you book flights from two airlines together, you will have to complete only one transaction and we'll charge you only once.

Q What kind of reception are you getting from the airlines themselves?

A We met (AirAsia chief executive officer) Tony Fernandes and he really liked the Hybrid Connect idea and the airline is proposing to give us exclusive discounted tickets, at about 20 per cent off, to offer on Hybrid Connect.

It's a win-win situation because AirAsia has limited capacity on long-haul routes and it doesn't have the capacity to form partnerships with every single traditional airline. So, that's where we come in. This way it can get the passengers coming from Europe or the United States to Asia.

In each continent, maybe we'll find one strategic partner. So in Asia, that's AirAsia. And if that model works well, we can then go to Ryanair, for example, and see if it wants to work with us the same way.

We registered our holding company in Singapore and we have a travel licence in Singapore. So we'll be selling tickets from here.

The regulations here are just much better.

So, chief information officer Peter Chen and I will be moving here and we'll be expanding our team in Singapore too.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 13, 2016, with the headline 'Five questions with... HelloWings'. Print Edition | Subscribe