March 7, 2013 -- Imagine you're interested in taking a vacation. Two beach destinations -- maybe Jamaica and St. Lucia -- emerge on your radar. How do you pick? Is it based on price? Flight times? Do you flip a coin and let fate decide?
San Francisco-based GetGoing.com, launched Wednesday, packs a little of all three criteria. In the end, though, the site decides where you go, picking between two destinations that you've already chosen. And if you can live with that, said the site's creator, you can save big money -- between 20 and 40 percent -- on flights.
How it works is simple enough: Choose two destinations you've got in mind, or pick from a themed list, for example, beach. Pick the flight times and how many connections you're willing to make. Enter your credit card information. Wait for the computer to tell you which of the two destinations it chose for you. Flight details – airline, exact flight departure time – are revealed.
Many people, said GetGoing.com CEO Alek Vernitsky, would like to fly but can't find fares cheap enough. Seems obvious. What's less obvious, though, is that, according to Vernitsky, airlines would really like to discount seats for leisure travelers. But the difficulty is, the airline can't say with complete certainty who would "like" to go somewhere and who "needs" to go somewhere. In other words, if you've got a meeting in Phoenix or your sister's wedding in Fort Lauderdale, the airline wants you to pay as much as possible for the flight. Because, after all, you're going – no matter how much the flight costs.
If, on the other hand, you're thinking about a vacation but will only go if the price is right, an airline with an otherwise empty seat would very much like to get you in that seat, even at a deep discount.
Vernitsky said the "pick two, get one" model solves the problem for the airline on who needs to go somewhere and who would just like to go somewhere. The most common scenario is a business versus a leisure traveler.
"I came up with the idea about a year and a half ago on a flight from New York City to Korea," Vernitsky said. "The flight was virtually empty. I thought it would be great if the airlines could discount tickets the right way, to the right people, and enable more people to fly."
He said that beyond the cost savings GetGoing.com can offer, it's also a way for people to help people find places that are affordable and give them more choices in their price range. It also allows travelers to log in using Facebook and see which of their friends have been to the destinations where they're interested in traveling.
"The idea," he said, "is to give you a relatively small list that's somewhat diverse but concentrated in places you may be interested in."
It helps if the traveler isn't an airline loyalist: The name of the airline remains opaque, or hidden, until the booking is complete. And, Vernitsky said, not every airline is offering the opportunity to earn miles on flights purchased on GetGoing.
Of course, there are more choices and better prices during nonpeak travel periods. It will be more difficult to find deals to great destinations for a family of four over Fourth of July weekend than the first week in January.
And how, after getting to the final page, does the site decide where you're going? It's nothing more than "a digital flip of the coin," said Vernitsky. Up next? GetGoing's getting ready to offer a similar product for hotels. Nothing like leaving your vacation up to chance.