Just in time for spring break: Michigan students create website for cheap impromptu vacations
Daniel Brenner | AnnArbor.com file photo
Enter Nowcation, a new travel website created at the MHacks Hackathon held on the University of Michigan campus early in February. The site automatically searches for cheap travel options to high-demand destinations leaving from your hometown.
The site encourages spontaneous travel by not allowing you to select where you want to end up — only where your trip will begin.
“We don’t ever plan on putting in a feature where you can search for a specific destination,” The website’s co-founder and University of Michigan freshman Jamie Sookprasong said.
“If we do that we’re directly competing with everyone else and we’re not that different from them. We might personalize by letting you say if you’re looking for a beach holiday, or a ski holiday. By interests, but not by location.”
Sookprasong’s three co-founders, Raj Vir, Jesse Daugherty, and Pratik Kabra, are all computer science sophomores at U-M. Three of them plan to continue working on the company, and Sookprasong is heading up an effort to raise a first round of funding.
“Right now our site links through to Expedia,” he said.
“We’re looking for a round of investment so that we can get our own software for people to buy directly from us. We’re looking to find something cheaper than the software that other sites use that costs half a million dollars a year.”
The founders met representatives from California-based venture capital fund A16Z at the hackathon and submitted a pitch to them for funding Feb. 21.
Screenshot from Nowcation.com
One improvement the team hopes to make is to search for cheap flights more frequently. Due to a limited number of queries they are allowed per month, they can only update the site with new deals every two hours.
“So a lot of the flights that we’re putting up there, there are only maybe three tickets available at that price,” Sookprasong said.
“So by the end of the two hours, those are usually bought by someone somewhere in the world. We’d like to be able to refresh those searches much more frequently, but we can’t do that until we have funding or we monetize.”
As they are looking for outside investment, Nowcation also is making progress on the monetization front. A hotel booking website has approached the company and has offered to pay between 50 cents and a dollar per “click-through” to their site. They also are working on becoming a full-level affiliate of Expedia, a status that would give them a cut of flights purchased through their referrals.
Sookprasong said at the website’s current visit and click-through rate could translate to tens of thousands of dollars every month. Click-through rate is determined by how many visitors actually click on the links that take them to Expedia to view and possibly buy the tickets.
“So far we’ve been up for three weeks and we just passed 100,000 page views from 40,000 unique visitors,” he said.
“We can’t tell how many people actually buy flights, but about one-third of our customers click through to Expedia. That could be extremely profitable for us.”
The site’s target audience is young professionals who have the money to take the vacations they have always dreamed of but lack the time or motivation to plan them out ahead of time.
“They’re still young, and they want to go out and explore the world,” Sookprasong said. “They’re still getting used to working in the real world and don’t have hours to spend searching for flights.”
Michigan’s spring break begins after classes Friday and students without plans can check the site for getaways or contact the founders to arrange group travel options. Sookprasong said the founders are now dealing with special requests — such as groups — manually in order to learn how they would want an automated program to run the searches, but he hopes that similar functions will be built into the site soon.
Ben Freed covers business for AnnArbor.com. You can sign up here to receive Business Review updates every week. Reach out to Ben at 734-623-2528 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on twitter @BFreedinA2
Wed, Feb 27, 2013 : 8:21 p.m.
First it says "cheap impromptu vacations", but then says "for people who have the money to take the vacations they have always dreamed about". Vacations most people have always dreamed about are not usually cheap, and cheap vacations are usually not the ones people have always dreamed about. So which is it?
Wed, Feb 27, 2013 : 5:04 p.m.
I like the idea and the random vacation that would come with it, however when I click on the links to buy a ticket I just goto expedia and the price is more expensive than what the website originally said...
Thu, Feb 28, 2013 : 12:51 a.m.
"So by the end of the two hours, those [tickets] are usually bought by someone somewhere in the world. We'd like to be able to refresh those searches much more frequently, but we can't do that until we have funding or we monetize." This addresses the major price discrepancies, however, for difference in less than $60, this is usually due to the fact that taxes and airline fees aren't included on our site. Feel free to 'Contact Us' via the link at the bottom of the page with any more comments or suggestions, Jamie Sookprasong
Wed, Feb 27, 2013 : 2:45 p.m.
Personally, I could have used this site last year when I ended up riding in the middle of the back seat for 21 hours all the way to Los Vegas... Onward innovation!
Wed, Feb 27, 2013 : 2:13 p.m.
Great idea! Best of success, I am sure it will catch on with colleges everywhere.
Wed, Feb 27, 2013 : 12:25 p.m.
Look what you can do if you mobilize and focus on a goal! Especially when we have so many tools available to us through the Internet. Good luck with the project.
Wed, Feb 27, 2013 : 11:23 a.m.
I can't believe sophomores in college - during a hackathon - can make something like this. I think it's a cool idea, but it definitely will attract only a certain (spontaneous) clientele.
Thu, Feb 28, 2013 : 12:48 a.m.
Hi Lizzy, For the slightly less spontaneous, but who still don't have a specific destination in mind, one can 'Contact Us' (via the link at the bottom of the page) and we'll work with you to plan out a more structured vacation package. We always love feedback so don't hesitate to send us comments, suggestions, or problems with the site. Cheers, Jamie Sookprasong