In our latest tech profile, I chatted with Danny Finkel, strategy and business development director for Global Tour and Transport. He’s openly obsessed with airlines and the travel industry and, as a result, is proud to be one of the people responsible for providing travelers with valuable information on how to choose flight options wisely.
Tarran Street (TS): How long have you worked at Expedia and what made you want to work for the company?
Danny Finkel (DF): I’ve worked at Expedia for about 2.5 years full-time, and while I was getting my Master of Business Administration, I did an internship here as well. I am an airline dork through and through. I was that little boy who played with airplanes incessantly as a kid. Unlike others, I never outgrew it! During business school I thought I would work at an airline and never really thought about the OTA space, but when I talked to a couple Expedia employees, I realized the importance of technology-powered travel. I decided to give it a try, fell and love, and decided to stay.
TS: You have a wordy title. Describe your day job for us in layman’s terms.
DF: I would say it’s a combination of three different things. 1) Internal consulting. Anything that touches the airline space in Expedia, from ideation to execution and implementation, I could potentially work on. 2) Strategic prioritization. Determining our goals and prioritizing so they can become a reality. 3) I also handle relationship development with others in the flight industry. For example, I work closely with RouteHappy to incorporate their APIs into flight search result pages.
TS: What is one of your proudest accomplishments at Expedia?
DF: I love the fact that I am a part of moving Expedia’s business from price to value. We help airlines de-commoditize their offerings, and we help customers choose the offerings that are most important and enjoyable to them. The value-driven model is changing the way we think about air travel and it’s really exciting.
TS: Do you think customers feel that shift in air travel?
DF: Yes, I think they are at least starting to. Customers have long been conditioned to search by price. Arguably, we were part of that notion. Now that we are showing more types of differentiators, I think it’s become easier for travelers to realize how many different product attributes and features of air travel are in the marketplace. For example, if someone realizes they could pay US$25 more to have a bit more leg room on a flight, that may be a no-brainer; until recently, little factoids like that were difficult to compare quickly and easily. It’s a slow shift, but I think we will see the industry continue moving away from price to focus more on value. I also think customers will start really changing how they view and shop for flights. I’m excited Expedia is helping lead the way in terms of the technology and partnerships to make it happen in the industry.
TS: Expedia has been working on Upgrade Options; why do you think this is so important?
DF: Airlines have traditionally had a pretty simple structure: refundable versus non-refundable tickets and business-class versus non-business-class tickets. When the fall of the air economy happened and airlines started charging fees for everything, it really alienated travelers. Recently, airlines have started to make these ancillaries clearer to customers by re-bundling fares and branding by individual carrier. This is great for customers because they can now better determine what is best for their needs—whether it’s flexibility with refunds, upgraded seats, extra leg room, etc. All of this helps the airlines determine what matters most to their customers. Airlines can build and offer the types of fares that give travelers specific options suited to their needs without forcing customers to pay for the things they don’t want (or need).
From a technical standpoint, this is actually quite difficult because Expedia works with so many airlines and every airline handles their branding differently. Also, there are different features included in each fare, and each airline files differently. But we are a technology company and used to solving problems like these, so it has been very cool to see Expedia launch this with transparency for travelers and still allow airlines keep their individual fare identities and attributes.
TS: What feedback are you hearing from airlines on this work?
DF: They love it; I think it comes back to the de-commoditization part of where the industry is headed. Now Expedia is helping the airlines offer various fares and we’re able to do it while allowing customers to compare their flight options. Ultimately it is a win-win. Customers love value, more choice, and understanding what they are booking. Airlines get customers who love their brands because they understand what is included in their fares.
TS: Do your own travel experiences influence your job?
DF: I think so. I’m a huge airline nerd so I know way too much about the industry. Because of this I can make smart decisions about where and how to fly. And I know our customers may not know all this information, so I am happy to be able to pass along some of this valuable knowledge by providing our customers with the information on how to choose wisely. I also recognized how important it is for flight amenities to be as easy to find as the actual fare or price. We’re building that capacity directly into our products with branded fares and partnerships with companies like RouteHappy.
TS: What are your favorite tools to work with on the job?
DF: Does flying on a plane count? I geek out as new technology is available on planes or for travel.
TS: Any tips or tricks on the education front that are considered baseline understanding for people you’d want to hire?
DF: For my role, it’s most important to understand and respect data. It’s so important in every decision we make. Not just pulling data, but understanding it and learning how to analyze and structure it so you can make informed decisions about it. Excel and other hardcore statistical programs are vital for data composition and comprehension in our industry.
TS: Which tech devices do you rely on personally?
DF: At Expedia I get to be exposed to tech all the time by osmosis, which is good, because I’m a pretty simple user of technology. I use my computer and phone frequently. I’m even old school when it comes to TV; I actually watch it on a television!
TS: What is your favorite travel destination?
DF: I have so many. I’m torn between Thailand, Maldives, Hawaii and Australia. Really anywhere with good food, good culture and good beaches.
TS: Complete this sentence: A vacation isn’t complete without ::____.
DF: A tropical drink in my hand and warm sand on my feet.