Startups / Travel

Priceline’s founders are now trying to make business travel better

The driving thesis of Upside: business travelers can be flexible, they just need the right incentives.

Upside set out to improve the business travel industry. (Photo by Flickr user Brett Levin, used under a Creative Commons license)

Conventional wisdom doesn’t view business travelers in the most flattering light — it sees them as intractable and a little selfish. Basically the assumed mentality of the business traveler is The company is paying for it — who cares how much it costs? My comfort trumps all. 
But Priceline founders Jay Walker and Scott Case believe there’s a way to change this — to get business travelers to be more flexible and allow companies to save money. It’s all about the right incentives.

See, currently the interests of business travelers and the companies that send them on the road aren’t exactly aligned. But what if business travelers could be incentivized to find cheaper business travel solutions? Upside, Walker and Case’s new D.C.-based startup, does just that.

A mockup of the mobile app Upside aims to launch this summer. (Courtesy photo)

A mockup of the app Upside aims to launch this summer. (Courtesy photo)

It works like this: business travelers log on to the Upside platform and answer a series of questions about their trip, including which elements they’re willing to be flexible on. Are they willing to stay a little further from the convention center this time? Upside then presents the user with a bunch of travel package options, including hotel stay and flight, using what Case describes as “data science magic.”
The platform steers users toward cheaper packages, rewarding them for flexibility with everybody’s favorite reward: free stuff. Users win gift-card credit for choosing a cheaper flight or hotel — and bragging rights for saving the company money. “It forces the traveler to think about the mission of the business trip,” Case said.
Case told he’s excited to be working in the business travel space because, frankly, it hasn’t seen a lot of innovation recently. He also hopes a platform like this will just make booking business travel easier — eliminating protracted searches by employing smarter technology.
Upside hasn’t launched yet, but, perhaps because of the founders histories with successful travel companies, it’s generating buzz. The company is currently looking for people to join their “VIP” program — an invite-only beta test. Case said the company hopes to soft-launch in the fall.
Also, ICYMI, Case is a big believer in #DCTech. Read what he has to say about why the city is a great place to start a company.

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