by Annabel Fenwick Elliott, The Telegraph, April 9, 2018
There are plenty of airfare hacks out there, but rarely are they as simple as this - a website which automatically refunds you every time the price of a flight or hotel room you’ve already booked drops.
DoNotPay, which is free and has just launched in the UK, scans your email inbox for any travel reservations you’ve made and continues to check them for price decreases, every five seconds (that’s 17,000 times a day) until your flight departs or your hotel stay begins.
When the price drops, the site’s bots will scan the exact terms to find a clause that allows rebooking at a cheaper price, then switches you to the new booking, after which the airline or hotel has to refund the difference straight back to the original form of payment. DoNotPay will repeat this process until the customer is paying the lowest price.
“Flight and hotel prices change all the time,” the site’s 21-year-old founder Joshua Browder tells Telegraph Travel. “On some routes every six seconds.”
Your best case scenario is a price drop within 24 hours of booking a flight, since most airlines have a clause that enables you a full refund within that time frame. But there are plenty of scenarios in which you can wriggle out of an overpriced ticket beyond that - between 70 to 90 loopholes per airline, which the bots are programmed to scan: everything from weather warnings to schedule changes.
And not only does the service monitor price drops for the airline you’re flying with, it sniffs out the competition too.
One beta tester in the US, where DoNotPay first launched, was notified by text of a Delta flight from San Francisco to New York that was $40 less than the Spirit Airlines flight he had booked previously, and better still had no layover. He accepted the option and was automatically re-booked and refunded the difference.
This writer signed up and it does indeed take no longer than 30 seconds. The site requires your email address, date of birth, phone number and bank card details. With any luck, money will start rolling in once the price drops are detected on my existing travel bookings.
So given that DoNotPay is free and doesn’t take a cut, how does this system earn its creator any money? “It doesn’t,” he tells us. “I wouldn’t be against making it sustainable by negotiating with the airlines and hotels directly, but it will always be completely free to the user. Right now, I am just trying to create a product people like.”
It’s far to say that Browder, British-born and a Stanford student, is something of a robot genius, having already launched a service under the same name that has overturned thousands of parking tickets in the UK.
“I was the worst driver you can imagine and over the course of months I got about 30 tickets,” he explains. “So I became this accidental witness to the system. As a technologist, I thought, this is the perfect thing a bot can do.”
The bot works by asking a series of questions designed to work out if a ticket can be appealed, including whether there were clear parking restriction signs or if the driver was travelling to hospital urgently. After determining that an appeal is viable, it then walks the user through the steps of appeal.
To date, the service has negated over 500,000 tickets in the US and UK, worth an estimated £10.6m.
The young entrepreneur has, unsurprisingly, attracted attention from industry giants, signing a partnership with IBM and raising an undisclosed sum of money from Greylock, which backed Airbnb, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Dropbox.
Telegraph Travel is currently testing Browder’s new offering, and will report back with the results in due course.