Travel start-up AirStudent has launched a new travel portal to provide access to more affordable flights, accommodation, and car hire, with “no penalty change or cancellation fees”.

AirStudent believes the changing travel landscape has given rise to the ‘new age’ traveller that has a strong affinity to technology and prefers having everything under one roof, which it hopes to cater to.

Lwanda Shabalala, the co-founder and COO at AirStudent says what sets new age travellers apart is their savvy use of technology and social connectedness, which is important for the industry.

“Social media and peer pressure significantly influences their travel decisions. They tend to look for fast responses and instant gratification. They’re not brand loyal: they want the best price,” says Shabalala.

“To understand and service this market, we must lean heavily on technology, which will open up access to the tourism industry even more,” says Shabalala.

What started out as a Whatsapp group for students called Student Flights from a college dorm room that pooled students together into larger groups with better negotiated rates, has now evolved into a travel portal renamed AirStudent, with headquarters in Rosebank.

AirStudent now caters to all travellers, which it says includes small-business people, the person on the street or government groups “who are looking for ways to travel more cheaply and have a better customer experience while doing so.”

Ndabenhle Ntshangase, co-founder and CEO at AirStudent says, “Once the brand starts opening its wings properly, people will find affinity to it whether they are students or not. We believe we are all students of life.”

The portal leverages Travelit and Tourvest systems and support and is financially backed by E Squared Investments, who provides capital and non-financial support to Allan Gray fellows. Ntshangase is an Allan Gray Orbis Foundation Fellow and has graduated through the Allan Gray Entrepreneurship Academy programme.

Ntshangase says it offers competitive rates because of its direct connections with airlines and accommodation partners, which is a direct API connection on its website.

He adds that the advantage of doing group bookings on AirStudent is the organisational benefits that come with, like being able to handle it under one login, and their rates, which is also applicable to individual bookings. It also offers other benefits like free extra luggage, and according to its website, “no penalty change or cancellation fees.”

Ntshangase says it is looking to incorporate loyalty programs into the system. “At the moment you can create a profile on our site and track all your bookings, and soon enough, we will roll out international travel.”

Shabalala, touching on the economic disparities in the country, including unmanageable academic tuition fees, high housing costs and other general costs of being a student, says AirStudent sees an opportunity to drive solutions that are needed desperately in our society.

I’m not just talking about students traveling between home and university, says Shabalala. “We see the same problem for parents, school administrators, and SMEs looking to build and do business, but are hindered by the costs around travel.”

AirStudent says its Travelit backed portal will support a holiday database from partners with over 2800 packaged holidays, more than 200 guided holidays and experiences, and 250+ cruises.

Ntshangase says, “Four times out of five when doing our testing, we had better rates than any of the online travel agents.”

In terms of customer support, Ntshangase says it’s the beauty of the partnership with Tourvest that comes into play. “When we don’t have capacity, we pass it along to Tourvest who have one of the best after hours support systems in the country when it comes to corporate travel, which we are now reshaping for leisure travellers as well.”

While AirStudent is a B2C portal, it is currently testing a B2B solution where corporates can on-board themselves onto the site with their own profile, says Ntshangase.

“The benefit of that is corporates will be leveraging off what I believe is the Rolls Royce of travel in the country and will compete on an international stage at a really good price with all the bells and whistles.”

“The agreement we have with Tourvest and Travelit is one that allows the small guys to be able to access some of the best technology at a fraction of the price,” says Ntshangase.

AirStudent is a small start-up team of three, including Ntshangase and Shabalala, along with former Comair executive Brian Kitchin.

“We have a good relationship with E Squared Investments through Allan Gray and are not looking elsewhere for funding. Our relationship with them goes beyond a transaction, he adds.

“It’s more of one that is helping and nurturing because at the end of the day, Lwanda and I are really young and are new to this business, so having people who want to see us grow more than wanting a return is something that is invaluable,” says Ntshangase.