Out of Office app launches hotel booking partnership

At a time when points and miles devaluations seem to be announced on a weekly basis, going “free agent” — no attachment to any particular loyalty program — with one’s travel plans can seem more appealing than ever.

A new hotel booking partnership at a popular travel planning app appears to be arriving at just the right time for the burgeoning free agent travel movement.

Out of Office — a travel planning app that behaves partly like Tripadvisor when it comes to user-generated reviews but with the strong visual aesthetics and community of one’s Instagram account — recently launched a hotel booking partnership with Booking.com.

The partnership puts Out of Office one step closer to its goal of providing users with end-to-end trip planning where you can do everything from within the app. Out of Office counts The Points Guy founder Brian Kelly as an investor, PhocusWire reports.

Booking a hotel stay via a third-party provider like Booking.com instead of directly with a hotel company usually means forfeiting loyalty benefits and points earning. However, the co-founders of Out of Office note there are times that are optimal for booking directly — but there are also times when it comes down to finding the most affordable option out there.

“Of course, people want to be able to utilize their points and loyalty, but there are times when that is not optimal,” Jan Seale, Out of Office’s co-founder and CEO, said. “I do think you see people being more open to doing things slightly differently.”

Crowdsourced travel reviews aren’t a new concept, but Out of Office is more about combining all the travel recommendations you receive from friends in one visually appealing place on your phone. Gone are the days of the shared piece of paper with scribbled recommendations for Parisian hotels and cafes, the thinking goes.

How to book your stay via Out of Office

Out of Office users can scroll through destinations for hotels, restaurants and other attractions. The recommendations become more personalized after you start to follow various accounts of friends and family members (or just people whose travel strategy you like). Your feed will start to populate with the activity of those you follow.

Now, when you peruse various hotel reviews, there’s also a function to book a room via Booking.com. While Tripadvisor also has a function to let users book, Out of Office’s appeal stems from it leaning more into the idea the reviews come from people you know or follow and basing a decision off that rather than pages of reviews from people you don’t necessarily know or trust with travel advice.

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“We’re just trying to make it really easy for users to come on, read the reviews from people that they know, see which friends recommend it and then make it really seamless to book directly through Booking.com,” Coabi Kastan, Out of Office’s chief operating officer and co-founder, said.

Will the app convince die-hard points and miles fans to ditch their Marriott Bonvoy or World of Hyatt perks and start booking via a third party? Almost certainly not.

However, there’s plenty of fish (aka travel spending power) in the trip planning sea — and they’re not all points and miles people. Out of Office’s co-founders see a lot of opportunity in marketing to women and younger travelers.

“We’re really focused on this target market, millennial and Gen Z travelers, who are now making up the biggest share of travel spend,” Kastan said. “We’re [also] focused on a female consumer — not that we’re alienating men by any means, but we know that women make the vast majority of travel-related decisions. We also know that they account for the majority of travel spend but are often sort of neglected by travel startups.”

What’s next for Out of Office

What destinations are Out of Office users most excited about? Canada, Europe and last-minute domestic trips in the U.S. are all popular searches at the moment, Seale said. Capitalizing on those searches is a key part of Out of Office’s growth trajectory.

The Booking.com partnership is a major step forward for the company’s pursuit of operating a full-service menu of travel services from within its app. The company already has a partnership with OpenTable to make restaurant reservations from Out of Office.

The co-founders have also indicated they’d like to eventually add the ability to make flight reservations or book excursions and tours.

“We always felt so frustrated that travel planning was so fragmented,” Seale said. “Definitely down the pipeline, that will be a part of our end-to-end ecosystem.”

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