A new app in the UK called Seatfrog allows rail passengers to bid for upgrades to otherwise empty first class seats for as little as £5. According to the company, the app will open up first class travel by allowing passengers to join auctions on their smartphone up to 30 minutes before departure. So how does it work?
Patrick Kingsland (PK): What challenges do passengers face trying to upgrade a ticket?
Iain Griffin (IG): There is just so much fragmentation. Say a passenger changes their mind at the last minute and wants to switch trains or upgrade their seat, train operating companies will manage this in different ways: some will email you, others will allow you to get on the train and ask the guard. But all those processes are highly manual and often very confusing for passengers.
PK: How does the Seatfrog app work and what benefits does it offer passengers?
IG: From a passenger’s perspective Seatfrog is the best way to get a last minute upgrade. They can put their booking reference into the app any time before they travel. We then allow them to see what the seat looks like and establish a sense of value. If they want to upgrade they can place a pre-bid or buy it. On the day, we also run an auction two and half hours before the train departs. The highest bidder wins, which is transparent and honest. So far we’ve have a huge conversion rate. More than 50% of people that get an email want to upgrade, which is almost unheard of.
PK: What benefits are there for rail companies?
IG: We help train companies in many ways. Firstly, Seatfrog optimises any inventory that is guaranteed to travel empty. There is a lot of capacity that is unused at the moment. We say: why don’t you offer it to people seated in standard and the person who is willing to pay the most should be able to sit there?
The app also helps reduce the operational expenditure that is associated with processes like upgrades. Virgin, for example, was running an email-based programme where passengers had to print out the email, take it on board, find the guard, pay the guard for the ticket, get that ticket reprocessed and then find their seat. That’s a lot of time wasted for the guard, who already has a difficult job in terms of running the train service…