An Interview With Scott Keyes of Scott’s Cheap Flights

Fly Your Business to the Moon with the People-Based Approach

Airfare. The word is synonymous with [generally] expensive travel, frustration from long lines at customs and the fear of leaving your identification at home.

Some fly for business and others fly for pleasure. But some fly because they can and/or because it’s cheap. Yes, you read that correctly. Some people fly because it’s cheap, and it could be cheap for you too.

Enter Scott Keyes, creator of Scott’s Cheap Flights.

In today’s world, consumers’ lust for the best deals and smart savings are paramount, as is their expectation for convenience across all aspects of their lives.

Scott marries these two key elements of the customer experience with his business, which is, for all intents and purposes, run from his inbox. That may seem a bit strange when you have a debate raging as to whether email is dead or just harder to tap into, but Scott doesn’t think so.

“Part of the reason Scott’s Cheap Flights has been successful (I think) is by choosing to focus on email rather than web.” Scott told us. “It might feel old-fashioned in 2017 — email has been “dead” for going on a decade now — but as a result I think it’s an overlooked arena.”

And he’s right. Email is no more ‘dead’ now than it was five years ago. Millennials actually prefer to be contacted by businesses via email, so there goes the theory that today’s youth are killing email.

“The other positive thing about email is it’s a more passive medium.” He continued, “Instead of having to check four times a day (and just hoping that you serendipitously checked at a time when a cheap flight just popped up), subscribers just sit back and wait for me to alert them.” 

Or, to put it plainly — email is just convenient. Scott’s email-based business model completely simplifies the otherwise painful process of finding and booking travel.

The term “passive” is an important word to key in on (no pun intended). Customers want to have pleasurable experiences, and they certainly don’t want to feel like they’re being coerced or pressured into doing something.

Scott’s laid-back approach, simply passing along a truly good deal for the sake of it, represents the crux of his success. By coupling the two most important factors for potential travelers, price and convenience, Scott has achieved a type of subscriber loyalty that airlines only wish they could achieve. And he’s accomplished this through a people-based business model.

“Airlines focus on their most profitable customers — business travelers.” Scott explains. “They’re the cash cows. That’s the premise behind frequent flyer programs, also known as loyalty programs. For infrequent leisure travelers who might take one or two big trips each year, it just doesn’t make sense to go for anything other than the cheapest and/or most convenient flights.”

Scott delved into the issue a bit further, saying that, “Part of what I’m trying to do with Scott’s Cheap Flights is change how people think about booking flights.” 

“This is the way most people approach getting a flight: (1) pick where they want to go; (2) pick their dates; and (3) see what prices are available. This usually results in high fares. Instead, if getting a cheap flight is your priority, I’m trying to teach people to flip that approach: (1) see what prices are available via Google Flights, Kayak, etc. to various places are around the world; (2) decide which of the cheap destinations appeal to you; and (3) select the dates you like that have the cheap fares available.”

These methods have worked wonders for Scott, who snagged incredible bargains like a $130 roundtrip ticket from NYC to Milan. All he had to do was take $20 bus from DC, where he was living at the time, to New York. By being flexible with his departure location he saved over $700 on his flight.

With success stories like that, who’s to argue with his methods? But this isn’t about how he saves money on flights. It’s about how Scott has built a company from his inbox and effectively managed an email list built from good, old-fashioned word of mouth, the occasional bit of press and Reddit AMAs.

In 18 months, Scott went from managing a list of 5,000 subscribers to 500,000. That’s pretty incredible when you consider the aforementioned reasons for the growth of his list.

What’s more, he’s ensured that everyone on the list is served relevant content without changing the message he conveys.

“On the one hand, the beauty of an email list is that it’s immensely scalable. I don’t really write my emails or find deals any differently now that we have 500,000 subscribers, compared to 18 months ago when we had 5,000. The marginal cost is next to nothing.”

Since his business model is, in and of itself, people-based and based on a void in the travel industry, creating engaging emails has been straightforward. They’re all relevant, since it’s exactly what consumers need and are looking for, as evident by his response when asked about A/B testing his emails.

“We do a bit of A/B testing on promotional emails, but for regular deal alerts we don’t do any performance testing.” Scott explains.

“This may sound surprising, but here’s why we don’t. Our revenue model is a freemium subscription model, and we don’t take any commissions or use affiliate links. Therefore, unlike most email marketing firms, our funding isn’t tied to open rates, click rates, etc. If it were, we would be writing subject lines in a way that’s much more clickbait-y but would also lead to lower levels of overall satisfaction. Instead, we can focus exclusively on writing emails in a purely informational way, focusing exclusively on keeping subscribers happy.”

Could any consumer ask for more?

Scott’s Cheap Flights represents the true goal of People-Based Marketing, encouraging marketers to look through the lens of a consumer, see the world from their eyes, and market to them accordingly. After all, marketers are consumers too. A better understanding of your target market can only help maximize the effectiveness of your business. (Just ask Scott.)

“Other deal sites use a commission funding model; as such, they’re incentivized to blast out as many “deals” as they can — most of which aren’t very good — because each time they’re getting a cut of the sale.” Says Scott. “People never really know if their deals are actually good, or if they’re just hyping it up for the commission fee.”

“By using a freemium subscription model and not taking any commissions, it builds trust between Scott’s Cheap Flights and our subscribers because when we send out a deal, they know we actually think this is a great deal, not a so-so deal we’re hyping up in order to get an affiliate fee.”

It’s through this consumer lens that Scott’s Cheap Flights has been able to separate itself from the competition. And brands should follow in suit by shaping their strategies around people and their actions to create better experiences and undeniable relationships.

At the end of the day, consumer loyalty no longer stems from the mere brand name. It’s a result of positive and valuable experiences with brands they can trust. Scott recognized what he could achieve by marketing to his consumers as if they’re his buddies and as the people they are. The results speak for themselves.

“On top of that, I try to keep the emails and interactions with subscribers pretty informal. I’m not a nameless faceless corporation using some algorithm to search for airfares; I’m Scott, I’m obsessed with finding cheap flights, and when I find something good that I think you might like, I let you know about it. Not terribly complicated, and I think folks appreciate a human touch to it all.”

As a former journalist, Scott knows a thing or two about the human touch. Good journalism requires having your ear to the ground and a pulse on, not only what’s relevant, but what’s important.

But important to whom? For companies, the who is the consumer, and for journalists the who is the public. The consumer and the public are one in the same, and you’ll never be a successful journalist or businessperson without understanding what the people want, when to give it to them and how to give it to them.