After a brief plunge into what ID90 Travel CEO Mike Stacy calls the “abyss”, he reports seeing a steady recovery in volume and even gaining new business.

In early August, the Dallas-based company, which handles airline employees’ travel bookings from flights to cruises to hotels,  signed on Northern Air Cargo (NAC) as its first client since the pandemic hit the U.S. in March, bringing with it stringent travel restrictions that have threatened the entire airline industry.

ID90 Travel has created an interline platform for NAC employees to book non-revenue travel on Hawaiian Airlines and Alaska Air. The deal gives Anchorage, Alaska-based cargo carrier’s 200 employees access to ancillary travel products and services including hotels, all-inclusive resorts, car rentals, ground transportation, travel insurance, and cruises. 

NAC operates a fleet of Boeing 737-300s and Boeing 737-400s within the state of Alaska, and widebody Boeing 767-300 services throughout the Caribbean and South America. Other functions include aircraft maintenance through its subsidiary, Northern Air Maintenance Services, on demand charters and consolidation of cargo. With a main base at the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, NAC also operates out of a hub at Miami International Airport.

In addition to Hawaiian and Alaska, NAC joins Frontier Airlines, Spirit Airlines, Aeroflot and dozens of other carriers who have chosen ID90 Travel to automate their staff travel. (ID90’s name refers to the “industry discount” of up to 90 percent that airline employees are eligible for when they fly with their own airline or interline partners and book hotels, cruises, and car rentals.) 

“Part of our mission at NAC is to create a great place for our employees to build long-term careers,” said Gideon Garcia, Vice President & GM of Northern Air Cargo, in a statement. “Thanks to our relationship with ID90 Travel, we can now expand our benefits package to include flight privileges and travel supplier discounts to our valued employees.” 

“NAC now has an attractive offering to help their employees more easily book their space-available air travel while at the same time taking advantage of great deals and discounts through our app and website,” said ID90 Travel CEO Mike Stacy. 

ID90 does have unique advantages that have insulated it from the Covid-19 demand shock experienced by other travel businesses. After all, travel professionals are a more reliable customer base than regular business and leisure fliers. Yet, even as layoffs and furloughs are being prepped by airlines in the fall, ID90’s Stacy believes the company is well-positioned to weather cutbacks and serve during additional fallout stemming from Covid-19, at least in the near term. 

Kambr Media: How has ID90 Travel’s business been impacted by the pandemic?

Mike Stacy: Overall, our revenue is down roughly 50 percent from this time last year. As with everyone in our industry, April was the abyss. But May was when we started to see upward trends in all our lines of business. 

June was even stronger, and July is coming in roughly the same as June. No doubt the increase in Covid-19 cases tempered our transaction growth but the good news is we’re holding steady. 

We signed a new airline for our staff solutions, Northern Air Cargo. We’re also in contract negotiations with two large airlines and our sales pipeline is growing.  This is in addition to signing new contracts earlier this year with Allegiant, Swissport, and Unifi Aviation Services. 

Our focus through this pandemic has been first making sure our employees are safe and healthy; second serving our existing customers and their employees, and third offering potential new airline clients help as well. If a carrier is looking to save a significant amount of costs, employee travel is one place to start. So, in addition to waiving any implementation fees, we’ve also made offers to airlines to cover any of their internal costs associated with the work they have to do to integrate us into their system.

There is not an airline on the planet that needs to be doing staff travel themselves. Our technology is better than what the airlines can do themselves. Given how this pandemic has ravaged airline balance sheets, this is an area where an airline could completely outsource and be assured they're going to have a better system than what they have today.

And if an airline wants to use us for interline ticketing, we will not charge their employees a fee – ever. We've had a couple of airlines reach out to us, and we're in early discussions about implementing this.

Can you provide some insight into those discussions?

We recently spoke with one of the largest airlines in the world, which offering early retirement packages. Obviously, it's a really tough situation, but one way to slightly soften the blow was for the airline to promote the continued use of our benefits. Because they will still have flight privileges, we can offer these employees continuous access to deeply discounted hotels, rental cars, and cruises. Each carrier is obviously different., but with this particular carrier, it was five years if you take the package. That bodes well for our business with continued access to these benefits.

We're working with the carriers by putting marketing packages together that they can give to their employees when they do take the packages, basically saying, "Hey, this will eliminate some of the sting of the situation. Not only would you have access to your flight benefits, but you still have access to ID90. Once a member, always a member of ID90 and access to those deep discounts." We understand the position that our clients are in, and these are the ways that we're reacting to help them get through this.

How is ID90 communicating to users now versus at the start of the pandemic?

In the beginning, when everybody was locked down, we stopped sales messages. We were still promoting different destinations because people were dreaming about travel at that point. Looking at a travel destination, either on Instagram or a magazine or even in an email was a form of a break.

We have 24 brand ambassadors from airlines from all over the world. They were posting and sharing a lot of their previous travel content to our users and the email open rate and social media metrics were through the roof. And so again, we stopped selling, but we still promoted, "Hey, travel's going to come back, and when it does, look what our brand ambassadors have done. Look at some of these great destinations that are out there that you—as an airline employee—will eventually have access to." We focused on that.

Then, when the time was right, we used our brand ambassadors to help us stay attuned to the market and what the airline employee themselves were thinking. They helped us craft a lot of our messages because when it was time to get back to selling, we didn't want to be tone-deaf. And so it was great to have these 24 people around the world. They were unanimously saying, "You know what, hey, this is what happened in my airline," or, “It’s time to get back to promoting travel and getting these airline employees out there and traveling.” And so that's what we started to do.

In addition to promoting destinations that opened and letting these employees know about our airline industry discounts, we strive to develop features that increase the value of their travel privileges. One way we do that is through our Invite-a-Friend feature. An employee can invite any of their friends to join ID90 (their friends don’t have to be airline employees) and when they join, they receive $10 off of their hotel transaction, and then you as the inviter get $20 added to your account. An added benefit is there is no cap. You want to invite a thousand friends…go for it. 

During economic downturns, it’s generally expected that spending on tech, innovation travel tends to be cut. Are you seeing that at the airlines and travel companies you work with?

Yes, we heard from several airlines about cuts being made with their tech teams which is why we’ve seen our work with carriers grow. In addition, we know the airline business will come back, and our goal is to provide even greater value to airlines and their employees, so we’ve continued to invest throughout this crisis. Some of the projects we’ve launched and are planning to launch before October include:

  • Brand new mobile app
  • Corporate Hotels - the ability for airline employees to book discounted rates for business travel purposes with rules applied to availability and additional reporting for accounting purposes
  • Credit promo codes - ability to offer airline employees a code which when redeemed will add credits to their accounts
  • Hotels Review Score - added ability to filter and sort by airline employee review scores
  • Added additional rate types to choose from, most notably more Pay at Hotel rates 
  • Member Reward Loyalty Program - allows Members to earn credits for cruises and hotels based on their spend
  • Virtual Gift Cards - ability to purchase a gift card which can be redeemed for travel credits 
  • Site Speed Improvements - decreased load times by 40 percent with continuous improvement planned
  • Added multilingual content throughout the booking path
  • Adding a new supplier which will bring additional discounted rates for Europe Hotels and Mexico/Caribbean All-Inclusive resorts
  • Personalization - sort order of hotel list will be personalized based on employee airline booking patterns and marketing emails will be tailored to each employee and airline based on their activity with ID90 and airline's routes (Q3)

Our technology is great and we continue to improve it. But you don’t need to take my word for it. You could just go check out the reviews of our mobile app on Apple (4.6) and Google. (4.4) We have a Net Promoter Score of 68 and we’ve never lost an airline client. 

Have you traveled since the outbreak? What was your experience like?

Our family went on our annual vacation to the Florida panhandle in early June. We flew Southwest which was a great experience… I really missed flying. I never thought I’d say that and will never take getting on a plane for granted anymore. I know there is a lot of angst about flying for many people, which is understandable. But our family is not overly concerned. 

We know a lot about what's being done to keep a plane clean, and of course, we wore masks from the time we entered the airport. Our brand ambassadors keep us abreast of what they know their airlines are doing to increase cleanliness and safety. 

We have one brand ambassador who works in engineering at Iberia. He was taking us through the HEPA filter system on their planes—how they are hospital-grade to keep the air clean. So I really do feel comfortable flying right now.