InsideTrip Goes Mainstream, Rates Itinerary Quality, Provides Broad Lessons in Online Travel

Think about the last time you flew anywhere. How would you rate the overall experience? Unless you’re a bird, there were probably things that could have been a lot better—legroom, connection time, delays, quality of service, and so on. In fact, the general level of misery in air travel feels like it’s always going up.

But when you made your last travel reservation, your decision was probably based on price more than any other factor, with connections and seat assignments as secondary considerations. The question is, would you want more information about the flights themselves before you book them, if it were available?

That’s what entrepreneur Dave Pelter is currently exploring with his Seattle-based online travel startup, InsideTrip. The company rates each flight based on 12 metrics, such as the age and type of plane, baggage handling record, on-time record, and how crowded it is. For Pelter, it all boils down to one thing: “Do people care about quality?” he asks.

InsideTrip is part of a new wave of technologies and business models in online travel. It’s not too surprising that Seattle would be a leader in the sector, since this is the backyard of Expedia (which includes TripAdvisor and SeatGuru), Farecast (now part of Microsoft’s Bing Travel), and numerous smaller companies like Yapta and Raveable. Maybe it’s because of the combination of a strong tech community and lousy weather.

Indeed, several travel startups have been bubbling up around town lately. The newest ones aren’t talking publicly yet about what they’re up to. But they have attracted some interesting players. One of them, TravelPost, was founded by former Expedia execs and backed by Ignition Partners and General Catalyst. Another, Off & Away, is being incubated by Madrona Venture Group.

Unlike those startups, InsideTrip is ready to talk about what it’s doing. Pelter, a former airline executive and Farecast vice president, sat down with me recently to chat about his company, where it’s headed, and how it fits into the broader story of online travel businesses. As of today, InsideTrip has officially emerged from beta testing mode and is opening its consumer website to the general public. It is also in the process of raising money and signing up new partners and customers for other parts of its business.

This isn’t the first we’ve heard of InsideTrip. Pelter rolled out the beta version of his website back in March 2008 and got a fair amount of national press. And just last month, he pitched InsideTrip to investors at the “First Look Forum” organized by the Northwest Entrepreneur Network in Seattle—and won as the audience favorite.

But to fully appreciate what InsideTrip is doing, you need to know Pelter’s background. … Next Page »

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