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by Alex Palmer | July 12, 2016

Jay Walker, the entrepreneur who founded "name-your-own-price" travel booking site Priceline.com, is aiming to innovate how travel is booked, this time by rewarding business travelers with gift cards. His new company, Upside, promises to draw on big data and the incentive appeal of gift cards to encourage business travelers to be more flexible in their selections of flights and hotels.

 

Upside, which is signing up members for a September soft launch, leverages cloud computing and a mobile app to help quickly analyze a huge amount of data on flight and hotel-room inventory. It draws on content owners such as Expedia and Sabre, then the app shows the user ways they can book cheaper air and hotel reservations and be flexible and how much that is worth in gift cards. For example, selecting a different airport or earlier flight could mean $50-$75 in free gift cards, while staying in a hotel a few blocks from a meeting or convention center could mean a $100 gift card.

The company is working with leading gift card supplier Blackhawk Network and will be offering 30 to 50 different types of e-gift cards a wide range of retailers in its initial launch, which can be downloaded to a user's mobile phone a few days after purchasing travel and redeemed at a wide range of retailers. The gift card value can also be applied to the cost of the flight or hotel, helping reduce travel costs further.

"Before Upside, many business travelers simply accepted the myth that they couldn't be flexible on business trips," Walker said in a statement. "Upside reveals a surprising truth. Plenty of travelers are willing to take a flight a little earlier than planned, or they are happy to stay at a top hotel a five-minute Uber ride from the convention center -- if they instantly earn hundreds of dollars in free gift cards to spend at a store or e-commerce site of their choice." 

While anyone can use Upside, its core audience will be travellers at small and medium companies without strict travel guidelines or booking tools. Travelers first enter a range of times they can fly, as well as airline and hotel brands they are willing to use. Then an Upside Package including flight and hotel is created factoring in the lowest price and maximum gift card amount. 

Ahead of its September beta launch, scheduled in about two months, the service is offering Upside VIP memberships, which provide a minimum of $150 in gift cards for every trip an individual takes.