The latest edition of our ongoing THack series landed at San Francisco’s International Airport this weekend, taking over the impressive conference room in Terminal 2. Inspiration was everywhere, with an expansive view onto the apron providing a kinetic backdrop to a marathon travel hacking weekend.

After introducing the sponsor APIs to the crowd of developers, designers and entrepreneurs, Tnooz co-founder Gene Quinn kicked it over to the group for team creation. Attendees were asked to consider four discrete buckets when ideating:

Travel wear? Innovation with wearable tech that tracks and shares travel. Wings, wheels & beyond: Make a California travel experience using 3 or more modes of transport. Personalization: cool, not creepy: Combine profile data, geo-location and social media to create a personalized travel experience. Think mobile, act local … Build a mobile application that rocks the traveler’s journey … somewhere in California.

Teams were competing for $3,000 in prizes from Amadeus, Travelport and Sabre, in addition to an overall award of $1k each for a team under 2, a team of 3 to 5, and a People’s Choice.


Ultimately, over 16 teams emerged to hack together projects of various scopes and ambitions, using both the available APIs and anything in the public domain to address an identified issue in travel.

After spending the day on Saturday and half-day on Sunday, the teams came together to deliver their pitches. The teams created products with a few highly distinct themes that are already impacting travel – and suggest the trending movements in travel over the next year.

Personalization = bookable inspiration 

A couple of teams responded to the challenge of personalization by not necessarily focusing on parsing available data into a custom experience but by taking pricing information and attempting to surface value trips that inspire the traveler to book.

Both of these concepts were also winners, as they achieved the rare feat of providing a simple-yet-new way to book trips.

The first, Placeholder, was a crowd favorite, and yet while it narrowly missed out on the People’s Choice award, the concept snagged the overall award for a team under 2. Placeholder is a crisp inspiration interface that offered a captivating means of travel inspiration via the Internet browser.

The simplicity of the concept added to its ingenuity, which was also boosted by the unconventional deployment via Chrome Extension. The browser add-on pulled in travel shots from Flickr, and then made it a one click to book a trip to that specific place.

Placeholder homepage

The team’s first version picked the cheapest flight to that destination, and used the computer’s IP address to set the home airport. Every time the user opens a new tab, a new destination appears. A shuffle button up top allows users to cycle through selections, and future iterations could include the ability to set a date range.

However, part of the emotional appeal of this product is its complete randomness. For the flexible traveler, personalization has in some ways come to mean not just a complete itinerary made for the individual, but actually the right price for an appealing destination that appears at the right time.

Placeholder managed to publish the extension, available here, and already had a few users at the time of the presentation – impressive!

This “pricing as personalization” concept appeared in another winning hack called Califlights.

The concept played to the “think mobile, act local” thread by providing a comprehensive mobile tool to uncover value fares departing from California.

The interface, as seen below, has only three fields: the departure airport code, the length of stay in days, and the budget. Users add in an airport, fill in the desired length of stay and drop in a budget, and the app will show a list of available flights under that budget.

Califlight interface

The secret sauce, shared below, was created by the team to deliver the fare rankings.

The cheapest fares – those that are the lowest price per mile flown – will bubble up to the top, as will those that are closer to the departure airport. The idea here is to facilitate fare selection using the two most important data points: fare and length of flight.


Wearables win, as the technology edges into primetime

Wearables are set to explode into the mainstream, as the impending release of the Apple Watch signals the start of primetime for the devices. Of course, Samsung’s Gear and the Pebble watch have been around for a couple of years now, but have yet to trigger the mainstream imagination the way that the Apple Watch already is in its limited few weeks in the public’s conscience.

A team of developers and designers from Amadeus created a product for the wearables track that captured the imagination of the judges, winning the prize for the team of 3-5 people. The product, dubbed Wicked Wearables, took a clever approach to the hardware category by focusing on a specific use case: a cruise ship passenger with limited time in port.

The cruise industry is often underserved by third-party technologies, especially those technologies targeting cruise passengers rather than the cruise lines themselves. The team underscored this opportunity in its first slide: in 2014, there will be 21.7 million passengers accounting for $37.1 billion in revenue and $7.2 billion in investment by the cruise industry.

The app lives on the smartwatch, and creates an on-wrist itinerary for walking and exploring around a city. The user can import Pinterest boards, or other points of interest, into the app, which then sorts and adjusts the itinerary to ensure the most expedient path throughout the various destinations.

Wicked Wearables smart watch

As the user walks, the app adjusts to account for speed and distractions, and ensures that the user will not miss the departure of the cruise ship by actively managing the trip.

The concept of delivering a wristwatch experience to not only prevent missing a departure but also to optimize a visit according to pre-selected points of interest is solid. Integrating with social media also eliminates the redundant need for an “inspiration interface,” where users select things they want to see, and allow for importing already-existing means of travel planning.

Another cool feature was a Friends screen that will allow friends to share favorite things to do with each other. So if you are in a city where friends are constantly asking you what to do, you’d be able to save an itinerary and then share it with another app user. The itinerary is then ported directly into the watch and ready to use.

Slick and smooth, the team had a live demo of the app, which underlined the potential impact of wearables on the travel experience with the raft of current and future interface screens below.

Amadeus Wicked Wearable

Drum roll please…the $1k API winners

Each of the API sponsors, Amadeus, Travelport, Sabre and Expedia provided prizes to their favorite hacks that used the specific APIs. Here’s the breakdown of which teams won the API prizes.

Travelport: Flock used the Travelport API to pull in a variety of travel options for affinity groups traveling together. For example, a group heading back to a reunion with friends spread across cities and countries. The app allows the group to book travel together, and then share the travel expenses equally among friends – thus sharing the cost burden for those people coming from the furthest afar.

In awarding the prize, Travelport’s Ted Beatie:

There are lots of interesting travel applications and thoughts about changing the way travel works. In choosing the person that we want to win our Travelport prize – the cash and the membership in our Travelport network – is something that was engaging and has potential to extend past the weekend. That’s Flock. Group travel is always an interesting topic, and the ability to share the cost among all of the travelers was a really unique angle.

Flock interface

Amadeus: OptiCar was the winner here, a service that allows travelers to see the differences between flights and rental cars – including the cost of a taxi to pick up a car. This was the track related to multi-modal transportation within the state of California. Nicholas from Amadeus said in awarding the prize:

We think it solved a real problem: when you are traveling for business or leisure, you want to have the full picture of the price. The way to use our full API to compare flights to cars and taxis was really smart. So thank you for that!


Expedia: HealthExec was the winner here, which was an application that connected business travelers to their activity. Integrating with wearables like FitBit, the application shows the activity that a traveler has completed in the context of a full app that shows upcoming trips, hotels and reservations.

The benefits for Expedia lies in the booking functionality, which will allow business travelers to book recommended hotels for an upcoming trip within the application. By focusing on health on the road, the app builds loyalty and encourages the user to book in-app. From Expedia’s Jahnse Papenfus:

We learn by looking at technology innovators in the space and that helps us go back and streamline our APIs and make developers’ technical work better. It was very interesting walking through the room to see how different teams approached the solutions and skewed the norm to get to a new solution. We only brought a limited API, and the project that we thought did the best with the limited API was HealthExec. From an Expedia perspective, we’d like to see more from this health angle.


Sabre: Califlight picked up the win here, which was covered above. Julian Marcano, Sabre Dev Studio:

It’s been an exciting year for us, and we’re excited to infuse more of this into our travel network. It’s also great to learn how our technology is used, and how we can fix and improve. We are going with Califlight, it was not only the pitch but the overall engagement. The cool factor and the mobile factor, and looking for the different options – that was all great.

The next THacks are in Barcelona and Bangalore – if you are nearby, come spend a weekend angling for cash prizes while exploring the fringes of travel. We’re eager to see what you’ve got cooking!

Original author: Nick Vivion