It is supposed to be interesting when an international online travel company launches in the land of the barbecuing shrimp. So here I am on staycation leave quietly reading my newsfeed and blog email address when I spot care of m-travel and an email from Steve Sherlock of Oodles that "Cheapflights have launched an Australian and New Zealand version of their site". I should be excited by an international launch in Australia but Cheapflights is not exciting for two reasons.
Firstly, as I said back in July 07 when the rumours first started of Cheapflights coming to town (where 2008 was the planned launch date), this market (online air in Australia) is already too crowded for a domestic market with 2/3 carriers. OTAs like Webjet, Travel.com.au (owned by Wotif), Flight Centre, Expedia, Zuji (Travelocity) and Bestflights and regional meta-search player Wego (part owned by News Corp) are fighting for scraps left over by the online air dominance of the major airline websites (Virgin-Blue, Qantas and the Qantas owned Jetsar). Granted those scraps are getting bigger and bigger but still this is not an easy market to enter. Secondly, the Cheapflights product is simply not good enough to be of value to the consumer.
For those that don't know, Cheapflights is a quasi meta-search company started in the UK way back in 1996. Even describing them as "quasi" is generous because to me the hallmark of a meta-search business is an integrated display of up to date results in one place. The UK version of Cheapflights has the integrated display but the results are not up to date. Have a look at this extract from a London to Paris search
http://www.cheapflights.co.uk/flights/Paris/London/ - rather than a dynamically generated page based on the timings of my specific search. The results are not timely or up-to-date. I clicked on a few of the links and they ended up on either dead search pages or some other destination page where the results did not match the search terms. In short the UK version Cheapflights - the oldest and most established version - does not work on a stand alone basis nor meet the minimum criteria for a meta-search player.
The Australia version of Cheapflights is even worse. It may be just early days for the product but the AU version is many steps behind the UK product which itself is steps behind competitors Kayak and TripAdvisor.
To give them some due, meta-search in Australia is not easy. As I discussed here in a Webjet vs Wego post (another Steve Sherlock tip) it is has proven very difficult to facilitae multi-carrier domestic meta-search in Australia. Wego has tried a work around (again go back to this post for more) but Cheapflights are not even trying. Have a look at this shot below of Cheapflights.com.au
In truth I don't think even Cheapflights think of themselves internally as a meta-search company. They target more of their effort and energies in their Travelzoo style Hot Travel Deals newsletter. Am undecided if there is value here,
Either way I am not predicting success for this product. The product in its current form adds little to the market and the competitors have more money to spend on marketing.
Told you I would get tough again? Am I being too tough?