Chances are at this point, especially if you like to travel, you or someone you know is scouring the internet and signing up for various cheap flight websites. Personally, I use Scott’s Cheap Flights, and that has allowed me to buy plane tickets at anywhere from 50-90% off normal fare prices. Scott Keyes, the Scott of Scott’s Cheap flights, was gracious enough to talk with me about how he got his business started and what the “secret sauce” is to finding all of the deals.
How did you get started trying to find the cheapest fares?
I worked as a journalist in Washington, DC for a few years and wasn’t making enough money to travel as much as I would have liked. I started thinking to myself “how can I travel more without paying a lot on my journalist salary?” In 2013, I started obsessing over scouring the websites to find fares like Google Flights, Kayak, Priceline, you name it. This was when I found my first major deal (and probably still the best fare I have ever seen) for $130—NYC to Milan, Italy. I had never even been interested in going to Milan before that fare, but had one of the best experiences. When I got home, people around me started telling me to let them know about the next time I saw a fare like that so they could capitalize as well. It started off as just my friends but expanded outside of my inner-network pretty quickly, and I needed to make an email list to keep up. It grew over time and a couple years later, I decided to make it an actual company.
How has the company grown since you started it?
When I started, I had about 50 people on the email list and they were all my friends, within a year and a half or so we were at 500, six months after that it was 5000, and now are close 500,000 subscribers.
What is your magic formula, if you will?
A lot of people are surprised to find out that I don’t necessarily have a “secret sauce,” at least in the sense that is proprietary or a non-public trick that I am using. The trick is my idea of a good time is just spending hours on Google Flights and trying to find the mistakes. And when you do, they don’t last very long, 3-5 hours or sometimes less, so it is like a game to find out the contours of the deal and get it sent out ASAP. You never know how long each deal is going to last, there are so many different facets, so you just have to know how to critically search. A lot of it is sheer persistence. There is no automation, I just do it manually by hand and that is how I live. I am the only researcher on our US and Canada deals, and we have over half a dozen people on the team now because I just couldn’t do it alone. It has grown a ton and it has definitely become a team effort.
Where do all of your deals originate from?
We have flights originating in the US, Canada, all over Asia, Australia, and New Zealand. We are expanding next month into Latin America and hopefully the Caribbean not far after. We would like to be in Africa by the end of this year!
What is the difference between your free subscribers & the premium membership?
The difference between our free e-mail list and the premium membership is obviously the cost, but also the frequency and time that we send out the deals. The premium membership is $40 for a year and those members receive three deals a day, compared the one-a-day for the free. They also receive all the deals 30 minutes before they go out to the whole list and don’t have to receive any ads . You can also specify what time of day you want to depart and from what airport, which are other perks for the premium members. About seven out of eight people use the free subscription, which I am fine with because I want people to make sure that the service is right for them and that they see value in the deals before subscribing.
What are your plans for the future?
We are looking for more of a user experience. We are working on an app for subscribers to keep growing our base and to keep making sure we are getting the deals out to our subscribers as quickly as possible – on top of expanding into new countries as originating points and continuing to look for deals in and out of new places.
What deals are some of the best you have ever seen?
Hmmm—good question. I would say NYC to India for $212 round-trip was a steal. There was also a flight from LA and San Francisco over to Australia for $323 round-trip. Honestly, the Santiago one that you got from DC to Santiago for $171 was probably one of the best as well. That normally goes for $900 easily. When I went there two years ago I paid $1100 or $1200 bucks. It seems silly but those fares are those situations where you can’t afford not to go.
How do you use your own services?
I travel a fair amount. I probably get to go International five to six times a year. My fiance and I got a puppy a year ago, which has cramped the travel a little bit, but we just got back from Barcelona a few days ago. This is actually the first time in years I don’t have another international trip planned, but we have a wedding coming up so my hands are a little full.
How much money have you saved people over the years?
A little under 30% of subscribers have bought a deal, somewhere between 5-10% have bought multiple deals, and most folks who buy a deal end up getting one to two tickets. In the 18 months since we have been operating, we estimate that people purchasing tickets through the email list have saved about $25,000,000 dollars. It is still weird for me to say but it is crazy how many people we have reached. Just last night we had a fare for NYC to Singapore for $320 round trip, it was a great mistake on Japan Airlines. It was probably like midnight on the east coast and I had dozens of dozens of people emailing me thanking me, telling me about how they were able to get their honeymoon tickets. It is always so gratifying to hear about how I can help people travel.
I want to thank Scott for taking the time to talk with me and also giving me the tools to take more international trips (as if I needed an excuse!).
If you are missing out on this great service, don’t wait a second longer and make sure you subscribe to Scott’s Cheap Flights. You never know where you might end up!