Tips from TravelNerd Offer a Smoother Ride Through the Airport

Xconomy San Francisco — 

There are tons of travel apps out there to help you plan for everything from booking tickets to translating foreign languages to finding your way through museums. But TravelNerd offers something a little different: an app that will help improve what’s often the most chaotic part of any trip—the journey through the airport—-by directing you to the best options for parking, restaurants, and the like.

The app, called Airports by TravelNerd, is a product of San Francisco-based NerdWallet. And according to NerdWallet founder and CEO Tim Chen, it’s all about being up front with the consumer.

“One of the parts that really annoyed me about travel was not being able to find transparency with parking prices,” he says. “There are websites that compare parking lots, but only the ones that pay commission. There’s no transparency in terms of actual prices. “

Chen discovered that pain point for himself when he was on his way to a nine-day trip to Spain, flying out of JFK. He looked online to check parking rates and decided he’d pay the quoted $18 per day price tag. “I figured what the heck?” he says. “I drove to airport and parked and realized it was $30 a day. That infuriated me.”

So now NerdWallet scours parking prices at airports around the world, and also gathers stats on which restaurants are child-friendly or wheelchair-accessible so that travelers can find what they’re looking for as soon as they hit the ground. The app also provides maps and information to help passengers get to the right terminal and gate, as well as a flight tracker.

So far, TravelNerd offers information from 73 airports, in the U.S. and abroad. It’s not cheap to do—it takes a lot more than a Google search—but it allows the company to provide a comprehensive set of transparent options for travelers that Chen says competitors just don’t offer (NerdWallet doesn’t like to share exactly how they do it). With other apps, “you won’t find parking information at 10 parking lots for SFO with coupons attached,” he says. “We try to take it a step farther.” Coupons include discounts on services like SuperShuttle, Park ‘N Fly, and Carmel Limo in New York City.

TravelNerd, launched in October of last year, grew out of the bigger NerdWallet business, which focuses on giving consumers unbiased information about financial decisions. When people want advice on what credit card to get, for example, Chen says they often turn to Google. But a lot of Google results are ads, and a lot of other sites make recommendations based on commissions paid by the credit card companies. Chen actually got the idea for the company when he was trying to hunt down a Fidelity 2-percent cash back card that friends had. But he couldn’t find it anywhere, and his sister, who worked in e-commerce at the time, “explained how marketing works and why you get completely biased results.”

The "Airports by TravelNerd" app offers airport map, flight status updates, and local transportation info.

The "Airports by TravelNerd" app offers airport map, flight status updates, and local transportation info.

So in 2010, after he’d left his hedge fund job, Chen launched NerdWallet with credit card comparisons, helping consumers find options with lower APRs or better rewards programs. Co-founder, chief operating officer and former high school buddy Jacob Gibson quit his job trading bonds at JP Morgan to join him. Now, four years later, NerdWallet offers advice on everything from mortgage rates and travel to business checking accounts, mutual funds and scholarships. They also have tools to help same-sex families with legal planning and students with student loans, and the company frequently writes blog posts about fraudulent products on the market.

TravelNerd is relatively new for the company, and so far the startup isn’t doing much to monetize its travel content. NerdWallet’s products do have advertisements, but Chen says they’re careful about how they bring in their revenue, given that they want to ensure unbiased reviews of financial products. “We definitely under monetize substantially.”

Though there are a plethora of other travel app options out there, Chen only sees one as a serious competitor: GateGuru, an, an app that helps travelers keep track of itineraries, reserve rental cars, navigate airports and find amenities nearby. But TravelNerd also recommends some other apps to make your journeys more enjoyable, like TripIt, which will combine your confirmation emails into a comprehensive itinerary, and NextFlight, which can help you change your reservations on the fly.

But for his part, Chen sticks to Airports—particularly to figure out which terminal a given airline is in, so he can figure out where to park, and know how much it’s going to cost him in advance.