How the founder of Journera wants to reshape travel through data

Oct 30, 2019

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Over the last year, Talking Points has hosted interviews with a range of C-level executives from the top airlines, credit card issuers and global companies. This episode features a leader whose background is an amalgamation of nearly all aspects of the travel space: Jeff Katz, one of the most prominent “travel disruptors” in the industry. Among one of the first big players in Silicon Valley, he has been honored with a Business Travel News’ top 25 travel industry leaders award five times over, and was an inductee for the first class of BTN’s Hall of Fame in 2010.

In his conversation with Brian Kelly, Katz explains his latest venture, Journera, and how it’s connecting brands to create a better end-to-end experience for travelers. He also shares his career transitions through the airline deregulation era in the late 1970s through the ’90s. He’s been the CEO of Swissair, a top executive at both Sabre and American Airlines, and the founding CEO of Orbitz Worldwide, gleaning unprecedented insight into how travel has evolved.

“It was an era when loyalty programs were invented, discounted fares were invented, and the fact that the fares moved in real time. That was all really new and fundamental to running the airline better from a profitability standpoint.”

Katz explains the pivotal role Orbitz played following the explosion of online travel agencies in the 1990s, and how competition was determined to break up the company.

“Before we launched the product, (a) couple of our competitors had us investigated as a cartel. I actually, [am] the only guy that I know who’s had to testify in front of the Senate twice in his life.”

Katz founded Journera in 2015 and believes his company will change the face of travel through its US-patented data encryption technology and ability to eliminate the inconveniences a traveler might face during their overall journey. Journera is supported by major brands such as American Airlines, United Airlines, Marriott Hotels, Hilton Hotels, Hyatt hotels and more. 

“It’s very early days, but a classic problem we are beginning to address is what I call the, ‘airline-hotel handoff.’ That is to say, I’m arriving early for my hotel. I could be automatically offered early check-in, I’m arriving late, my room can be protected. A digital key or a pre-printed key can be done for me so I don’t wait anywhere. I just show my ID, my key’s already done.”

Find out more about how Journera plans to securely create an easier travel experience, and what the future of travel is going look like. He may not be keen on Hyperloop, but sees great potential for Google and the TPG app to become major players over the next decade. Download this episode and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.


Brian Kelly: Welcome to this episode of Talking Points. I’m your host, Brian Kelly. And today, you know what? I’m pretty proud of our guests on Talking Points. We’ve had our fair share of CEOs and CMOs, but today we have someone who has shaped the travel industry in many different ways, including being the CEO of a major airline.

Jeff Katz: I was CEO of Swiss Air. I knew how to talk and use a calculator.

Brian Kelly: And a founding CEO of one of the most influential online travel agencies.

Jeff Katz: Orbitz would show everything. Was about choice.

Brian Kelly: And many other positions, including pilot.

Jeff Katz: Today I’m flying something called a Citation M2. It’s like flying your iPhone.

Brian Kelly: Innovator to the max Jeff Katz, right after this.

Brian Kelly: Welcome to Talking Points, Jeff Katz.

Jeff Katz: Thank you. It’s a pleasure.

Brian Kelly: So Jeff, when you were growing up, did you always knew that you wanted to be a big travel industry disruptor?

Jeff Katz: I did not. I mean, I’ve always been interested in airplanes as a young child. And I traveled — my parents were European immigrants — and so I traveled to Europe a lot as a young child, so I have always been interested in airplanes, but didn’t really fancy myself as being involved in travel until a much later stage of life.

Brian Kelly: Where did you grow up? Was there an airport that you would …

Jeff Katz: There was an airport. I grew up in what is today a well-known town called Napa, California. Back then it was just a a blue-collar place.

Brian Kelly: What brought your parents there?

Jeff Katz: You’ll laugh, but in those days that’s where you could afford a house if you lived in San Francisco. My dad was an accountant. My mom was a nurse. So it was just an affordable place to live near the city.

Brian Kelly: Were the wineries there?

Jeff Katz: Not really. In the early days of the Napa Valley it was Christian Brothers and Krug — names that people don’t know today. And Mondavi kind of started up developing some acclaim in the late ’70s, early ’80s.

Brian Kelly: You started at the airlines, right?

Jeff Katz: I did. I graduated from MIT with a graduate degree in — today they would call the Decision Science, or something like that. But it was a time in deregulation era where the airlines were really in sore need of people with quantitative skills. They were coming out of a regulated environment and they really wanted to know: “How do we run airlines?”

Brian Kelly: Because the pricing during regulation was a set amount.

Jeff Katz: Was fixed, and schedules were fixed. So if you had a fixed schedule and a fixed price, it was regulated to make a 12% return. You had Ed on earlier, Ed wouldn’t be satisfied with 12%, but that was big money back in the regulated days.

Jeff Katz: And so when those rules were relaxed, nobody really knew how to run an airline. And so quantitative people were brought in, I was part of that, to try and help them problem solve — how do you schedule an airline, what airplanes to buy, how to set prices and build all the systems — in at least the early days — systems around managing that scale.

Brian Kelly: The deregulation was late ’70s. What was the impetus behind that? Was there consumer backlash against pricing, because it was pretty expensive to fly back then….

Jeff Katz: It was a not well-run industry, but there was a movement politically to deregulate, and that happened in the late ’70s, but the implementation of it happened through the ’80s, and even the ’90s, I’d have to say, we were still struggling to figure it out. Now it looks like managements know what they’re doing — and relative to when I was in the early days of airlines, they do.

Brian Kelly: So, you graduate from MIT and go to Dallas-based American?

Jeff Katz: I went to American Airlines, yeah. Somebody once asked me, “How did you get ahead at American Airlines?” And I say, and I think this is largely true, I knew how to talk and use a calculator. That was my chief skill in the day.

Brian Kelly: Airlines are a huge recruiter of MBAs into this day working in the pricing, management, and then all across the business. Were you in pricing? How to price airfare?

Jeff Katz: I was in a department called Operations Research and we built computer models. We built the software, built the math around how to optimize flights, what airplanes to buy, how to calculate profitability.

Brian Kelly: And this is pre-mainstream internet. Airlines would sell tickets, you’d have to come up with pricing and then, was it mostly through travel agents?

Jeff Katz: Yes. In those days travel agents were the big deal. And in fact the development of Sabre, which you know well, came about in that era as a way to get travel agents off the telephone and onto the computer.

Brian Kelly: So the airlines … for people listening who don’t know Sabre, a global distribution system of fares, a unified language for airlines to talk to travel agents so they didn’t have to have a different system for connecting to every airline. And you ended up working at Sabre.

Jeff Katz: Yeah. I ran Sabre, the so-called GDS, for four years when it was public, but it was still controlled by American Airlines when I ran it. We grew it out around the world, and it was a very influential tool for travel agents to be able to work smarter. But it also allowed the airlines to manage themselves smarter. So fares could be updated by the second, if you will.

Brian Kelly: After Sabre, you went to work at Swiss. Was that move something that you had in mind, or did that opportunity present itself?

Jeff Katz: Well, it presented itself and in that time, that was the late ’90s, the European airlines were now going through deregulation.

Brian Kelly: The same deregulation, yeah.

Jeff Katz: So, they imported immigrant labor — I was one — to go help them transition through that. So I was CEO of Swiss Air, but a number of my friends and colleagues went to other European airlines and helped them.

Brian Kelly: So, was it just like bringing back those late-’70s transition models, from regulated to deregulated? Were you doing the same work?

Jeff Katz: Well, there was a lot of what was the same. You had to update your systems, you had to negotiate employee contracts that were about productivity, and you had to deal with the dynamism — the speed — of hub and spoke, and building hub and spoke and moving more quickly.

Jeff Katz: It was different, because culturally the Europeans then were really different than the American personality. When I first got there, I was interviewed in a setting like this by some Swiss journalists who said, “Do you believe in loyalty? Are you just all about hiring and firing?” That was the mentality they had about American management at that time.

Jeff Katz: So, culturally there was a lot more diplomacy. They care a lot about customers, more than we did in my early airline days in the U.S. We were all about trying to make money and we were not really good at it in the early days. But culturally, quite a bit more elegant is the word I’d use.

Brian Kelly: Modern-day loyalty programs kind of spawned from that deregulation, right?

Jeff Katz: Yeah, in the early ’80s.

Brian Kelly: All of a sudden airlines were like, “Wait, we have to compete now, not on price, but how….” And I think American was the first. Were you involved in those early discussions on the loyalty program?

Jeff Katz: Not on the loyalty program. I was really involved in pricing, though, and building early pricing models.

Brian Kelly: Were you bought into the loyalty concept, or it was it a like thorn in your side?

Jeff Katz: Oh, yeah, no — it was really powerful then, and is very powerful now. It was an era when loyalty programs were invented, discounted fares were invented, and the fact that the fares moved in real time. That was all really new, and fundamental to running the airline better from a profitability standpoint.

Brian Kelly: As a marketer, it’s a wild, wild West of a brand-new market created…

Jeff Katz: It was wild. It was fun. We made a lot of mistakes. It was a great upbringing, and a lot of the people who are around aviation and travel today came — Doug Park at American, for example, had a cube down the hall from me. A lot of important folks came out of that era, and now there’s new generations.

Brian Kelly: So you moved to Switzerland and you’re charged with … to deregulate what is now a very premium airline. Was Swiss as high-end back then, and how much did you throw yourself into the product and things like that, or were you more the analytics…

Jeff Katz: The technocrat. It was a privilege, honestly, to work there. For Swiss Air the passion for the brand was amazing. There were people who would put their name in the Swiss telephone book, there was such a thing back then, and in the telephone book it would say the person’s name and “Swiss Air employee” next to it. That’s how proud they were of the company. Or “Swiss Air captain,” that’s how proud they were of the company. So it was a real privilege, and I was definitely loved, being involved in the product. We did some outrageous things and customers loved flying Swiss Air. I think they still largely do love flying the new Swiss.

Brian Kelly: I flew Swiss first (class) for the first time this summer, and although I flew through Geneva and everyone was like, “No, you got to…” The experience through Zurich is drastically better than… Geneva has a couple flights to JFK, so their lounge and ground service is not the same.

Brian Kelly: What were some of those outrageous things you did? Did you start offering caviar and crazy champagne? Did they offer that pre-deregulation?

Jeff Katz: Yes, caviar and that, of the like, that came pre-deregulation. We were one of the early innovators with — you laugh at this — electronic tickets, websites, lie-flat seats. We would carve a whole filet of salmon along with the caviar. One of my favorite things that we did is we had — they’re very technologically advanced, and we had a system set up so that if you had the right kind of telephone, now this is in the late ’90s, as you entered the terminal, we would read that your telephone — you’re present — we would pre-print your boarding card and you collected your boarding card …

Brian Kelly: Wait, this in the late ’90s?

Jeff Katz: Late ’90s.

Brian Kelly: What?

Jeff Katz: A flight attendant-type person, a service person, would hand you your boarding card as you approached the immigration line for business class. It was truly amazing, and it was a remarkable experience. So we did things like that. Over time … 9/11 crushed a lot of airlines — that was after my time at Swiss Air — but crushed a lot of U.S. and European airlines, and some of these things had to go away for another time.

Brian Kelly: So my points education was in the mid-’90s. My dad got a job as a consultant. We lived outside of Philly. He now had to book his own flights and I was a computer nerd from 1990 on, where I had taught myself DOS, and I got on AOL and Prodigy. My first job — my dad was like, “I have to book tickets, I’ll pay you $10 a ticket to do it for me.” He thought it was this whole convoluted process. I had just signed up for Travelocity, I think it was ’95, and so that was my job. I would book his travel, and then it turns out he had all these frequent flyer miles with US Airways at the time, and American. That’s when I started booking our family’s trips. Every year he’d miss my basketball games because he was traveling, but we would go to the Caribbean all on his points, all six of us.

Brian Kelly: But anyway, mid-’90s, OTAs explode, consumers are getting on the internet in mass amount, and the airlines freak out, so to speak. In 2000, the U.S. airlines kind of combined to fight against the Expedias and the Travelocities and start Orbitz, and they tap you to run it?

Jeff Katz: Yeah.

Brian Kelly: Was that a tough decision — to leave the Swiss life?

Jeff Katz: Tell it this way, I was living a very privileged life. They washed my car twice a week, helicoptered me all over the country. But I knew having had a daughter who had to start high school, I knew I would have to decide to stay or leave. And honestly, I got these calls from the most powerful people in the airline industry, and I thought it was a really horrible idea, because their essential idea is, “We want to compete with Travelocity and Expedia.”

Jeff Katz: And I really thought, “That’s a bad idea. You’re five years too late. I’ve been at Sabre. I know how hard this is.” But these executives of the big airlines, many of them reached out to me, and I thought, “Maybe they know something I don’t.” So I agreed to leave. And I came to Chicago in the summer of 2000, and I like to tell people when I arrived, we had 10 guys and a bad PowerPoint deck and …

Brian Kelly: But a bunch of funding from these airlines.

Jeff Katz: But the capital, at least the early part of the capital, was there, and the dotcom bubble had burst. So you couldn’t do it without capital. Nobody would fund an internet startup in 2000.

Brian Kelly: But there must have been a lot of talent on the marketplace.

Jeff Katz: There was a lot of talent on the marketplace, so that 10 people grew to a much bigger number, and the team built a really great product, and it had a really great idea, which was about choice. And five years after the launch of Travelocity and Expedia, you could build a lot better product, and a lot more cheaply than you could in the mid-’90s.

Brian Kelly: So you had a cool name, Orbitz. What was the genesis behind that?

Jeff Katz: I didn’t like the name when it was first proposed, but we went through a marketing process to sort of test and search for trademarkable, licensable names and that’s where it came from.

Brian Kelly: You had several U.S. carriers, but your consumer value prop, especially for antitrust, that you were going to display …

Jeff Katz: We were not a cartel. Before we launched the product, a couple of our competitors had us investigated as a cartel. So I am actually the only guy that I know who’s had to testify in front of the Senate twice in his life.

Brian Kelly: You were going to display all fares.

Jeff Katz: Unbiased.

Brian Kelly: Unbiased. What was the key differentiator from Travelocity and Expedia?

Jeff Katz: Well, you have to remember that back in those early days, and you would know this well, Travelocity — because I was there when it was really created — was a browser window into Sabre. So you would see something like three flights in a not a very attractive, legible… You had to be you to use it. So Orbitz would show everything. If you wanted to see 10,000 options, you could click a link and see 10,000 options.

Brian Kelly: And thinking about 2000, those are the days when internet was still dial-up screeching. That must’ve been a pretty tough math problem to solve.

Jeff Katz: It was. And again, we were some of the early users of the Linux platforms. We could really create a lot of scale cheaply. We licensed what is today very well known, a fare search engine called ITA. We were really the first people to use it, and people love the product. I remember doing interviews when we launched in June of 2001 on Times Square, and they had cameras literally lining Times Square, and they marched me from camera station to camera station and talk about Orbitz, because it was in all the news. People would interview me and I’d have three or four minutes, and in between I’d call our network ops center and say, “Is it still working?” Because the team didn’t want to launch. We had the launch and it really worked well.

Brian Kelly: So it was a hit from day one.

Jeff Katz: It was a hit from day one. It was a remarkable hit. It was quite a ride.

Brian Kelly: You were there for several years. It just kept growing and growing, up until at the point where the regulators came in and made you sell it off. Is that …

Jeff Katz: No, we actually sold it to a holding company just at the end of 2004. When we sold it, the new owner of the company says, “Well, so how long do you think you’ll be staying, Jeff?” And I said — we were up in his office overlooking Central Park — and I said, “Three, maybe four minutes.”

Brian Kelly: I was going to say hours.

Jeff Katz: That’s literally what I said, and that’s about what I did. Well, I handed over the keys. You don’t build a house and move in with the new owner.

Brian Kelly: Yeah, no, totally. All right, we’re going to take a quick break now. I’ll see you right after we hear from our sponsors.

[Commercial break.]

Brian Kelly: Hey there, it’s me again, Brian, and excuse the interruption, but we’re gearing up for another hotline bling on Talking Points. I know you remember the number, 1(877)TPG-TRVL. One of the biggest shopping days of the year is coming up, and The Points Guy team wants you to make the most of it, so if you’ve got any questions on how to earn miles, or use them, this holiday season, we will be taking your questions. Once again, call us at 1(877)TPG-TRVL.

Brian Kelly: I’ll take your questions, and I’ll also give you the scoop on my upcoming holiday trip to — wait for it — Maldives, India, and Israel. Yes, I’m going back to Israel, my second time this year, and I’m doing most of it on miles and points. So give me a call, leave me your message on how you can maximize your holidays spending and time off. Come on, guys. We all need a vacation. Even me. While it may seem like I’m just on an eternal vacation, it couldn’t be further from the truth. They work me to the bone here at The Points Guy. The hotline closes two weeks before Turkey Day, so call soon. That’s 1(877)TPG-TRVL, and I’ll see you after the (beep).

Brian Kelly: Welcome back to Talking Points. Let’s jump back into it. What I’m really excited to talk about is your new company, Journera. Which was founded what, three years ago now?

Jeff Katz: Yes.

Brian Kelly: It’s more B2B, so it flies a little bit more under the radar than some of your last companies. But what is Journera?

Jeff Katz: The idea behind Journera is to elevate every traveler’s experience. And it’s journey with an era. So the essential new ingredient is an opportunity for brands to understand your entire journey. We bring that together using massive data feeds, machine learning, to identify that Brian in this reservation is Brian at that reservation, and we map it together. Your personal information remains with the brands, not in Journera, but if you can see the whole journey, you can fix things when they’re broken. You can fix things before they break. And you can create new experiences that don’t even exist now.

Brian Kelly: So I have to say there are similarities to Orbitz. Journera — you’re backed by American Airlines, United, Marriott, Hilton, Intercontinental, Hyatt and Boston Consulting Group. How did you get together this motley crew of huge travel brands?

Jeff Katz: Well, yeah, they’re an incredible group of brands, and they were at least initially persuaded by the idea that the world is changing and there is an opportunity to capitalize on a bigger picture than just the overnight, just the flight, just the ground travel. There’s an opportunity, and that big brands are going to capitalize best on this. Knowledge of the journey is really about taking better care of the traveler. And, really important in this new world is you have to recognize that data is a currency, and you’ve got to get ready for a world where not just Google knows that, but travel brands capitalize on the fact that their information is key to making a better journey, and collaborating with brands is key to creating better travel experiences and better marketing partnerships. And so some of the stuff that can happen now with Journera I’m super excited about, like when I board the flight, I can automatically be checked into my hotel and a digital room key can be pushed to me. You can only know that if you know in real time a customer’s entire journey.

Brian Kelly: It seems like this would be a no-brainer for car rental agencies because that’s such a pain, when you’re on the plane and at last minute you’re delayed and then you’ve got to call and hope that the car is there.

Jeff Katz: Exactly. So many opportunities … and ride share. We’ve had people come to us, even private jet operators have come to us, who maneuver, ferry crews around the marketplace, and they’re looking to stay more up-to-date with what’s happening to their flight crew as they get to a mission.

Brian Kelly: The GDSs in general were to bring multiple airlines for point of sale and to book. Journera is not trying to get in front of the booking process.

Jeff Katz: We’re not. We’re really just about this idea that: see the journey, make the journey better, get more journeys, get the right customers taken care of in the right way, and ultimately, sure, we can make bookings happen through the same pipe, because a booking is just a purchase where certain information, enough information is known by the seller, the service, the airline or the hotel, so that a transaction can be done, but we’re really not trying to focus there. We’re focused on just make the journey better. Wouldn’t it be great if all of our travel was a good experience rather than sometimes not?

Brian Kelly: So then these companies sharing their customer information, who decides who gets what information? Do you then have to have all these bilateral agreements between your member companies, or is the point of it to be, as you mentioned, I mean, it’s piping…

Jeff Katz: Yeah, it’s called real-time, secure collaboration. And the way it works is like this: We take information from a brand, we encrypt it all and no personal information at all is stored. Zero. So Brian might be known as XYZ2 in our system to American, and YZ4 to Hyatt, and that’s all that’s in the system. It’s these tokens or encryption. Then we know you’re on this flight going into Chicago and you’ll be staying in that hotel and you might have booked a ride share car reservation, and so on. And all that information is kept live, so when you make changes or cancels, or adjustments, or if somebody wants to push you an upgrade offer, or adjust the flight automatically for you, they see the whole journey and we keep it all alive in sync.

Brian Kelly: Are there interesting examples of how Journera is making journeys better today?

Jeff Katz: It’s very early days, but a classic problem we are beginning to address is what I call the airline-hotel handoff. That is to say, I’m arriving early for my hotel. I could be automatically offered early check-in; I’m arriving late, my room can be protected. A digital key or a pre-printed key can be done for me so I don’t wait anywhere. I just show my ID, my key’s already done. That classic early/late/changed hotel room linked to the airline is an important one. It’s beginning to happen. But there’s a lot of variations on that theme. You can imagine how loyalty status plays into that. How are you a corporate traveler, and what level of corporate travel, plays into that. Rental car and ride share, similarly, this handoff between providers.

Brian Kelly: It seems like it would be a good platform as a point of sale. My flight’s canceled in Atlanta, it’s 11 p.m., instead of having to go fumble around, if you know someone’s status in all programs and if you had pricing info …

Jeff Katz: I think the way I see it is we can be a pipe that facilitates that transaction. Let’s suppose you have a Hyatt in an American room. If that hotel room needed to be adjusted, the revised booking could be done directly by Hyatt in their system. The data that’s required goes back and forth through the pipe, as it were, through Journera. But the booking can be done in the Hyatt system. Booking can be done in the American system.

Jeff Katz: It’s a bit complicated, but I think that’s in our future, what I call the intermediary-less transaction. It’s not so well received by certain people in the industry, but there is a lot of kinds of bookings where you don’t need a middle person.

Brian Kelly: Interesting. You’re careful not to step on toes, so to speak.

Jeff Katz: Yeah, I want Journera to be a low-friction idea. We’re not a brand, we’re not a consumer-facing brand, so how people deal with that kind of issue is up to them. But let’s face it, in the future, what do you think the future of OTAs or GDSs is? I think it’s less glamorous than it used to be. And that’s just because there’s so much you can do by yourself. You don’t need intermediaries.

Brian Kelly: I’m The Points Guy, right? We all love points. What’d you say? Data’s a currency. I would say points are this huge currency. A lot of airlines make more money selling points than they do airline seats. Something we think about, and so we’re launching our app next year. We want to help our readers get the content that they need. But also, people have a lot of value in points across the board. We want to help people track their points in a way that’s meaningful. We want to give people tools similar to an OTA for award travel, whereas it’s very segmented today. It’s very time-consuming. The airlines and hotel companies know the most valuable customers are the ones engaged in loyalty.

Jeff Katz: Correct.

Brian Kelly: So we’re working hard to out how we can help people use points easier. Knowing the piping of airlines, how fares work, and how the loyalty programs operate, do you think that’s something, with the technology out there today — to create a seamless points marketplace?

Jeff Katz: It certainly can be done. You will, and I’m sure you already do, confront the rules of engagement that those currency owners — it’s just like the Federal Reserve and the Central Bank of Europe don’t arbitrarily let you trade currencies. There’s a lot of rules. So, you’ll deal with those.

Jeff Katz: First of all, consumers are manic and they’re really focused on their points. You know this better than everybody in the world. So I think there’s a need for that. How you help them both know more, and transact better, is a little bit the magic opportunity for you. In my Journera context, what I often like to say is there’s not a technical reason why two brands can’t decide to make their points liquid dynamically. So you put in a yield management system that says, “Today Brian is worth this many points per dollar, and if he’ll trade in that many points, I’ll let him buy this room, or ride, or airline flight,” and then we can just move that exchange rate back and forth dynamically.

Brian Kelly: It’s not rocket science. It’s the actual …

Jeff Katz: Technically, it can be done. But I think to your point that commercialization and making it user-friendly is a big challenge, and I look forward to seeing what you build.

Brian Kelly: What do you think … this leads me blockchain and how you guys are using blockchain. I feel like, three years ago blockchain was all the rage. How are you using the technology, and do you still think, like is it going to impact the way we travel? Because I feel like it’s faded recently.

Jeff Katz: Yeah, it’s not the answer to all dental solutions. Blockchain is sort of a cryptographic computing idea and I think it will find its way out, particularly in things like financial settlement — makes a lot of sense. That technology today is not really good at supporting real-time purchasing transactions. I think that’ll evolve.

Jeff Katz: In the current state of affairs, financial settlement is a great area for blockchain. It doesn’t handle the sort of dynamism that we try and support and that most eCommerce companies support when you’re shopping for something, buying something, trading something in.

Brian Kelly: What would you say to a consumer today that breaches are a monthly, if not weekly occurrence, of major brands. Do you believe most companies are, like you’re doing — encrypting and keeping customers’ information safe — or as a society do we need to be pushing for stricter standards? Or do you believe private industry is already keeping up with that?

Jeff Katz: I think the marketplace is pushing really hard, as is the regulatory marketplace, for stricter standards and adherence to standards. You’re on constant defense. But I think the industry is getting better and better and better.

Brian Kelly: People probably ask you this all the time, just like I’m always bugged at dinner parties about how to use my points — what would you tell someone today … You want to go from point A to point B, how do I get the cheapest airfare?

Jeff Katz: Well, the answer that satisfies the person asking the question is, “Shop till you’re tired of shopping and then buy at the place where it’s easiest for you to do it.” You’ll be very smart and you’ll be very tired, and then you’ll just pay the market price. I don’t think there is a best place to buy, but over time, the brands want you to buy direct and I think that’ll …

Brian Kelly: But do you think that’s in the best interest of the consumer?

Jeff Katz: Look, I think cheap will always be available in the marketplace. Cheap may not be most easy to buy from the brand, but best will probably always be easiest to buy from the brand. Best will be more clear, and best will be even easier than buying it someplace else.

Brian Kelly: So ITA is now essentially Google Flights. Are you a Google Flights person for price shopping?

Jeff Katz: I’m familiar with it. I use my own mousetrap, so to speak, because I can’t resist, not that it’s better. If we look at the future, Google’s going to be very big. They’re already huge in travel, they’re going to be huger, and they’re going to be a lot better over the next 10 or so years, as will others.

Jeff Katz: Think about: Should Apple play in travel? Why not? As services, businesses become important to them, Amazon and so forth. But Google will certainly be big and they’ll be really good, as will other brands that are harder to point your finger at.

Brian Kelly: I agree Google will be bigger, but do you think they’ll be better? I feel like today they own maps, and I think the maps thing will get even bigger. And yes, we all Google search and they’ll skim off there, because they’re just convenient. But are they actually adding, like, the value and the rating systems? I don’t know. I’m also very segmented in the way …

Jeff Katz: I don’t, of course, have any personal insights into what they’re doing. But I think to count out Google as an amazing provider of travel service is smoking something. They have built a giant business by really being good at understanding computer science and creating remarkable experiences. That’s at the angle at which they come at everything. Is there room for new remarkable experiences in travel? I think so. And I think you’ll see a lot from them.

Brian Kelly: Maybe The Points Guy should fill that void. Looking forward to just the future of travel, there’s Hyperloop, there’s space flight — next five to 10 year things that you’re most excited about, about the travel in general, whether it’s terrestrial or …

Jeff Katz: Well of course my bias is I think all experiences can be better experiences, and I think that’s a lot. Just taking a lot of friction and putting in more opportunity into travel. I think we’ll see a lot there. I think some of the stuff like Hyperloop and space travel is way overhyped for our lifetime. Most people can’t afford space travel and most people are afraid of the risks associated with personal space travel, but I think you’re going to see a lot more — ground travel is going to be better. Air travel is going to be a lot more efficient. I think our opportunity to be personally served while we’re traveling everywhere in the world is going to be a lot better. Those are things I’d look for before I look to get on a Hyperloop.

Brian Kelly: In biometrics, we’ve had Karen, the CEO of CLEAR on this podcast, and biometrics I think, are… Yes, I understand the consumer concern — but talk about a way to make airports more seamless, the whole travel experience safer, versus people eyeing an old ID. Will biometrics be a part of Journera?

Jeff Katz: I think again, we see the world as just a lot of data feeds and so the instantiation of a CLEAR ID can be a data feed that comes across as part of a transaction, as part of an experience that’s built between two or three or 10 brands for you on your journey.

Brian Kelly: I usually ask people, “Window or aisle seat?” But because you’re a pilot, it’s the pilot seat, clearly. I love flight. I know a lot of people love to fly as passengers. I have sometimes — I don’t have the time now, but I toy around with getting a pilot’s license. When did you get it? Do you recommend for most people to fly, or is it if someone loves being a passenger, should they just remain …

Jeff Katz: Yeah, just hang out there. First of all, it’s a lot cheaper.

Brian Kelly: What kind of planes do you fly?

Jeff Katz: Well, I’ve flown a lot of airplanes. Today I’m flying something called a Citation M2, it’s like flying your iPhone. It’s pretty much that easy and that enjoyable.

Brian Kelly: Jeff Katz, thank you so much for joining us.

Jeff Katz: Thank you very much.

Brian Kelly: Good luck on this journey that is Journera, and safe travels.

Jeff Katz: Thanks so much for having me.

Brian Kelly: That’s it for this episode of Talking Points. A huge thanks to innovator to the max Jeff Katz. Thanks for joining us. Before we close out this episode, I’ve got an important reminder that our second annual TPG Awards are coming up on Monday, December 9th in New York City and we want you to cast your vote, so go to and make sure you get your vote heard. And you’ll also be entered to win amazing prizes, including a trip to New York City, and to hang out with me in our brand new TPG headquarters, which is going to be insane. Voting closes Friday, November 15th and once again, vote at It’s easy and fast. There’s no reason not to.

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