David Heath needed to attend meetings in Austin, L.A., San Francisco and Las Vegas. The best airfare he found was $948, with two layovers. Yuck. So instead of calling a travel agent, he called his travel hacker.
Travel addicts, who once simply blogged about how to exploit online glitches, airline loyalty memberships and credit card points, are now using their tricks to book corporate travel. One of the largest groups is an agency called FlightFox, which, for $49, booked Heath's four-stop trip for $704. “More important,” says Heath, cofounder of the athletic sock manufacturer Bombas, “they saved me hours of frustration.”
Travel hackers take many forms. Many are individuals. Some work in collectives: The Travel Hacking Cartel, for example, sells advice starting at $12.50 a month. Others, like the startup Savanti Travel, offer full service: For a monthly fee of $600, it will manage and make the most of a client's airline miles and credit card points.
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“Normal travel agents don't find the best deals and aren't technically fluent,” says Zubin Irani, cofounder of cPrime, a Silicon Valley-based consulting service, who has used both agents and hackers. Irani now outsources all his company's travel to Savanti, which saves cPrime about $100,000 annually. “Travel used to be a cost center,” says Savanti founder Dan Lack, “but now there are opportunities to be a savings center.”