Everyone has a travel bug in them. But how we travel depends on the budget we have. It can be via train or flight, and most of us book things way before the travel date in order to get good deals and save money.
In this category, we already have the likes of MakeMyTrip and Cleartip raking in the moolah, and even though WTFares, a travel startup, claimed to offer the best deals, they started losing customers in 2014-15, when the prospect of cashback and discounts were brought in.
So, instead of trying to compete with the giants, the founders went back to the drawing board and connected with the consumers to see where it pinches them the most, and the answer — cancellation charges.
Where It All Started
Three years ago, 27-year-old Varun Sarda and his friends decided to set up a firm called WTFares that caters to online booking of tickets for travel. After completing his degree in mechanical engineering from BITS Pilani in 2010, Varun and his classmates joined together to form WTFares.
While most of the time you end up feeling good about your plan, there are chances that planned events might bump into unavoidable situations, forcing you to cancel tickets, and postpone the travel.
This means that all the money spent on tickets go down the drain, mostly in the form of cancellation charges. But this Indian startup is willing to pay for the cancellation charges for flights.
What we mostly came across was that fliers get no money back, even if they weren’t boarding the flight.Varun Sarda, Founder and CEO, WTFares.com
While the company has been around for a while, the increased exposure to air travelling, along with its affordability in India, has brought this firm into the reckoning. After an initial focus on desktops, Varun is spearheading the company’s evolution to mobile on Android and iOS.
Booking Flights Will Never Be the Same
Many customers like Kunal Malik (name changed) have borne the brunt of unethical practices followed by travel operators.
I booked a multi-city offer ticket for over Rs 10,000, but had to cancel my plans due to an emergency. I ended up losing majority of the fare, getting back less than Rs 2,000.Kunal Malik
He even tried filing a complaint against the operator, but that didn’t work the way he wanted.
According to Varun, DGCA has imposed a ruling where operators cannot deduct more than airfare, and giving back the taxes to customer (which is usually a higher share of ticket price).
That’s not all, he bullishly claims that there is no concept of non-refundable tickets, and MakeMyTrip and Cleartrip are making money out of these bookings. He blames this mostly on lack of information.
Consumers are not educated about these things. They don’t get to know about it while booking. You can claim a refund even if you’re not boarding the flight.Varun Sarda, Founder and CEO, WTFares.com
But Varun confidently states that if a traveller books a flight ticket via his portal, they are sure to get the cancellation charges, if applicable.
On an average, if a customer books a ticket in advance, he gets it for Rs 2,500-3,000 for short-haul flights.Varun Sarda, Founder and CEO, WTFares.com
Paying You From Other’s Pockets
Before you start thinking of this as a free of cost service, you need to know that WTFares offers cancellation charges after charging a premium of 13%, which acts as a security charge for their ticket, guaranteeing you the cancellation fee.
Most airlines charge a flat cancellation fee of Rs 2,250, which the customer stands to get, even if he books a ticket worth 3200.Varun Sarda, Founder and CEO, WTFares.com
But with WTFares, anybody who pays the small premium (when compared to the cost of ticket), gets back a big chunk of the ticket’s cost.
We’re able to offer refunds as much as Rs 1,100 on a Rs 1,600 flight.Varun Sarda, Founder and CEO, WTFares.com
So, how does this model even work? Where does the company get its money from to pay you for situations you weren’t prepared for?
The premium that’s paid as a security helps WTFares to make sure that at least one of their customers can get his cancellation cost without paying the premium.
Too much to digest? Let’s make it simple. For instance, if you book a Rs 3,000 flight ticket with WTFares, and pay the 13% premium (which works out to Rs 390), you will get the cancellation charges (including fuel surcharge and other levies, other than basic airfare) back.
We want 5 paying customers to give us the Rs 2,500 back, so that one customer’s cancellation can be done free of cost. We have to make Rs 500 out of each customer for that.Varun Sarda, Founder and CEO, WTFares.com
This unique offering separates WTFares from its established peers, but Varun and Co are running this business to make sure other businesses in this space don’t profit unfairly from consumers.