Eighteen months ago, entrepreneur and mathematical whiz, Steve Hui, embarked on a mission to get more Australians flying first class. How? Certainly not by paying the exorbitant retail price of $15,000, but by hacking through the frequent flyer points system so that clients pay no more than $6,000, or better yet, nothing. That’s not to say clients have to choose first class. Hui helps clients maximise their points so they can choose to fly in any class they want.
Hui’s startup, iFLYflat, would be best described as a ‘financial planning service for credit card and frequent flyer points’. We could go into the details of how he does it, but high school calculus was bad enough. Essentially, all the clever optimisation is done for you.
To date, iFLYflat has helped clients redeem approximately 7 million frequent flyer points, saving them over $1 million in travel expenses.
Hui’s client base has been growing steadily, currently sitting in the lower hundreds.
“I have been extremely pleased with the pace, and we are now seeing a large number coming from referrals, as I think our initial customers have now began to fully experience the benefits of the membership – this is the validation that we are offering a useful service with value,” says Hui.
“This is also reflected by renewals from current customers who many have only joined about a year ago.”
Hui was recently named as one of the Top 20 Young Business Leaders of 2014 by CPA’s INTHEBLACK Magazine, alongside Tim Fung from Airtasker and Nicolette Maury from Intuit. ‘Honoured’ to be in such good company, he credits iFLYflat’s growing traction to the changes that have been made to the company’s website and the startup’s revamped marketing strategy.
iFLYflat is now targeting small businesses – particularly cafes, fresh produce shops, health practices, IT businesses, and construction companies – as well as professionals in accounting, finance and law, who tend to be frequent travellers.
“We see this as a unique opportunity to use points to help them to reduce travel costs and/or to travel premium – a luxury which can be hard to justify if paying cash. Clients would be leveraging an asset (points), which are generated by their everyday business spending,” explains Hui.
“Also we have reduced our obsession with flying just in the pointy end, to helping our members to use their points in any way they want. A number of customers are also happy to use their points to fly economy.”
Since the last time Shoe String spoke with Hui, back in October 2013, iFLYflat has grown from a one-man show to a four-person team.
“It is the validation of the model – new members recognising the value of our offering – that has enabled iFLYflat to employ others and contribute to the economy, a vast contrast when compared to my corporate life not too long ago,” says Hui.
The biggest challenge for Hui has been an ongoing one: summarising his expert knowledge of frequent flyer programs and travel workings into a digestible paragraph.
“There is so much changing and complex combinations to leverage the value of points that I need to continuously translate that, and explain the options and the paths available to customers,” he says.
“Additionally, I have to explain to the customer that the key to using points to travel better at lower costs is a combination of flexibility and opportunity.”
One thing Hui has learned from observation is the growing dismay towards frequent flyer systems.
“They have tried many times to use their points but couldn’t find a way, so they questioning the value and are beginning to give up before they came to see me – this is a by-product of the confusing loyalty programs in the market,” says Hui.
He has also noticed, from client interactions, that people are unhappy with Australia’s Qantas.
“They’re ready to test out alternatives and making a conscious decision on where to put their loyalty. We are finding that customers are open to try new airlines like Thai Airways or Asiana Airlines, and have great experiences with them.”
“But they are also scared about will happen to their Qantas frequent flyer points.”
Hui has a number of goals for 2014. First and foremost, he wants to ensure iFLYflat continues as the leader in points’ management, helping SMEs leverage their newly discovered assets (points).
“We are achieving this through investments in technology, more people and partnerships with travel agencies, and collaborative arrangements with other innovative companies to offer more value to the membership base,” he says.
Hui also plans on streamlining iFLYflat’s operations to increase efficiency in its flight search and booking processes. This way, the backend will be able to handle global expansion.
This year, Hui will be embarking on a more aggressive marketing mission to increase the startup’s visibility.
“We would like to reinforce that a lot of people have the opportunity to maximise and leverage their points, which are assets (like a secondary currency or superannuation). The value they can get in return from their points are dependent on how they chose to use those points, and there is great value that can be unlocked without too much effort,” says Hui.
iFLYflat is currently in the process of setting up its advisory board. Hui says that many entrepreneurs who have experienced the benefits of the service want to support the startup’s growth this year on a more professional capacity.
More information on iFLYflat is available via www.iflyflat.com.au.