Interview: Iain Griffin, Seatfrog

Train upgrade auction platform Seatfrog is moving into air travel. Gary Noakes spoke to CEO Iain Griffin

Seatfrog, an app that enables customers to upgrade their class of train travel up to 15 minutes before departure, is expanding into aviation and is currently in talks with airlines.

The tech firm, which secured an investment of £4.5 million in June, estimates the world’s top 30 airlines see 37 million premium seats go empty each year due to what it calls a “manual, fragmented legacy process” when it comes to selling last-minute upgrades.

Seatfrog’s initial client was Virgin Trains and Iain Griffin, Seatfrog’s founder and CEO, says he will confirm airline partners soon, but adds that he does not want airline investment:

“We don’t want a strategic investor. We have been approached, but it often comes with strings,” he explains.

Griffin acknowledges airlines are already offering cut-price late upgrades, “whether it is at the desk or on an app”, but adds: “The way they are doing it is bad; it is educating people on price.”

Seatfrog, he adds, releases seats via an auction or on a “buy it now” basis once frequent fliers have been taken care of and taking into account factors such as whether enough food and beverage has been loaded.

Prices are determined on the day according to how many have expressed interest and the number of seats available, with bids open until three hours before departure.

“We’ve been contacted by a bunch of TMCs because there is demand from a corporate perspective,” says Griffin, who adds that a dedicated product for TMCs will be released by the end of the year.

“The TMC model will allow a business to contribute towards the (upgrade) spend. It will be very similar to the consumer experience, because it will also accept loyalty points.”

Seatfrog’s experience with Virgin Trains boasts a 56 per cent conversion rate, which it claims is “unheard of” in the travel industry, so it may be yet another disrupter when it reaches the world of aviation. Some carriers are already on the case themselves, however, with Etihad now offering upgrades via live auctions that end six hours before departure.

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