Our business model is revolutionary but also requires a whole lot of manpower and processes in the right place
The concept of Kiwi.com is simple — making travel better. Yet the company’s vision would be impossible to achieve without bringing in thousands of hours of work, the dedication of each employee, innovative ideas, and the trust of our customers.
From a small startup of just two people eight years ago, Kiwi.com has since grown into a company of more than 2,500 employees across multiple locations around the world. The journey hasn’t always been easy, though. Read on to find out more about our innovative travel solutions and the challenges, including the global coronavirus outbreak, our company has had to face so far.
Kiwi.com’s travel solutions in a nutshell
Back in 2012, the two founders of Kiwi.com — Oliver Dlouhý and Jozef Képesi — discovered a gap in the market and developed a technology called Virtual Interlining to fill this gap. Fast forward in time and nowadays, Kiwi.com has over 600 IT developers, with an average of 100 million searches per day and tens of thousands of seats sold daily.
Thanks to the algorithm of Virtual Interlining, travelers from every corner of the world are able to customize their travel search to fit exactly what they are looking for. Without endless hours of searching, it provides them with more travel options at lower prices.
Put simply, Virtual Interlining allows us to make bookings with carriers that do not usually cooperate with each other. For example, if you want to take a trip around the world — we are able to combine a short leg on a low-cost airline with a first-class seat on an aircraft crossing an ocean and top it off with a bus or train ride (and soon-to-be-launched ride-hailing service) to have you arrive exactly where you need to be.
Thanks to Virtual Interlining, we are able to develop some of the most unique travel hacks the travel industry has ever seen. For example, in bringing multi-city trips to the next level, we have created the search tool NOMAD. Within seconds of you entering the places you would like to visit into the search, the tool calculates the cheapest possible route between them.
By implementing new features and expanding our product offerings, we continue our mission of becoming the first Virtual Global Supercarrier by combining all air and ground transportation inventories onto one single platform.
Kiwi.com not only provides flight and ground transport itineraries directly to customers, we also provide them through other travel-related companies or, in other words, our partners. These partners mainly include online travel agencies, metasearches, tour operators, affiliates, technology providers, and travel management companies. We match our partners with airlines, online travel agencies, and metasearch engines, creating a vast network of possible connections and purchase points.
On top of our complex route search and in order to provide customers with a one-stop-shop experience while visiting our website, we have partnerships with the accommodation provider Booking.com and car rental company Rentalcars.com.
Our products are complex but we make them possible
It might seem like we “just” supply travel itineraries to others but it couldn’t be further from the truth. Having the largest flight and ground transport database in the world requires a massive amount of data and know-how about how to work with the data. This is the reason we’re not only an online travel agency, but also a high-tech, data-driven company.
Data forms the basis of our algorithm and helps us automate what was previously thought to be non-automatable. Within just a few years, and thanks to the more than 600 IT developers we employ today, we have managed to automate the search of billions of routes from any A to any B via any C within just seconds. As of today, we have automated 96% of all our bookings, with the remainder being handled by our qualified booking agents.
We receive travel content, such as the data in our search, thanks to our cooperation with airlines, airports, content partners, and ground transport providers. We have built the world’s largest route database with information from the airlines we cooperate with, global distribution systems, and hundreds of other data sources. On top of that we have recently added ground transportation so the database holds not just flights but also buses and trains. We have other expansion plans up our sleeve, for example ride-hailing services and ferries.
What happens with your money when you book a ticket on Kiwi.com
Our extensive database serves as the foundation for our Kiwi.com search. We scan offerings from carriers and intermediaries and generate route combinations virtually unavailable via any other online travel agency out there.
When a customer selects their preferred journey, made up of legs operated by different carriers, our sophisticated technology, along with our booking agents, purchase these separate legs from the providers and combine them into one Kiwi.com itinerary. After we arrange the booking with each carrier, we issue our own itinerary, booking ID and e-ticket for the customer.
Strictly speaking, when a customer selects a trip on our website and pays for it, we use the money to purchase their ticket on the carrier’s site for them. If in the meantime the price rises on the carrier’s website, we apply a so-called booking price limit, or in other words, we pay the difference up to a certain amount between what the customer paid us and what the ticket actually costs.
We cover the price differences within a reasonable limit without the customer noticing. Applying a booking price limit allows us to proceed with more bookings, decrease the number of customer calls, and, most importantly, ensure customer satisfaction.
What happens in case of a journey cancellation
After all is arranged and booked, it may at times happen that the customer does not take their booked trip and requests a refund from us instead. The available refund for the customer will depend on the circumstances and whether it is a voluntary cancellation (when the customer decides not to take their journey and the flights remain scheduled) or an involuntary one (for example if the carrier canceled a flight).
If the customer themself decides to cancel their trip, we will offer a refund based on the ticket type they have purchased — we call these ticket types Virtual Fare Types. Thanks to these, we have unified over 800 carriers we cooperate with under the same terms of cancellation for the customer.
We offer three types of tickets: Saver, Standard, and Flexi. They are transparently communicated during the booking flow and set realistic expectations of the level of service, including customer support, post-booking itinerary changes, and refundable amounts.
A different customer treatment applies in case of an involuntary cancellation. If the customer requests a refund, Kiwi.com will compensate the customer for the price of the canceled journey or, when applicable, will offer an alternative journey. In normal times, we pay the refundable amount from our own pocket so the customer receives their refund as quickly as possible, while we wait to be refunded from the carrier.
The scale of the COVID-19 outbreak has made the recovery of funds from carriers a massive challenge
Under normal circumstances, Kiwi.com has the capacity to deal with every refund request quickly and to the standard that our customers have learned to expect from us. However, when the volume of requests is unprecedented and exceeds our capacities — for example during the outbreak of the coronavirus causing COVID-19 — it proves to be a massive challenge to recover funds from hundreds of carriers, which are canceling flights at almost the last minute.
Aviation was one of the first industries hit and it has left thousands of journeys affected in one way or another. The number of customers inquiring about refunds grew exponentially and out of scope. Many airlines, airports, online travel agencies, and other businesses within the field now struggle for survival and it may be difficult for them to pay refunds in cash right away.
The situation is difficult for Kiwi.com as well. We have reached our capacity when it comes to paying refunds from our own pocket. Therefore, we now have to wait for the hundreds of carriers we cooperate with to issue refunds to us and our customers.
Our refunds largely depend on the carriers’ policies but we always pass on all available refunds to the customers. On one hand, we need to keep up with carriers, such as airlines, who cancel flights less than 48 hours before the scheduled flight and are not keen on refunding customers, and on the other hand, we must proceed with refunds to travelers who have booked through Kiwi.com.
We have had to adapt our processes and re-engineer our product in response to large-scale cancellations worldwide. That is why we have introduced multiple ways to claim refunds from carriers, including sharing the booking details with our customers so they can contact the carriers directly by themselves, when applicable.
As of now, we offer the following refund options: Carrier self-service, Free assisted refund, Priority assisted refund, Instant refund into Kiwi.com credit, and also the option to rebook the trip. Whenever applicable, customers will be able to choose from these options on their Manage My Booking page. Visit our FAQs to find out more about refunds.
We keep pushing the boundaries to make travel better
Over the years, Kiwi.com has become one of the most innovative online travel agencies in terms of travel solutions. This would not be possible without our customers, both new and returning, who use us for their travel.