MilesAhead: Reinventing Travel, Crafting Experiences

From left: Nelson Billington, Brian Becker, and Rob Karp

From left: Nelson Billington, Rob Karp, and Brian Becker

Chartering private planes is difficult for established professionals, let alone a group of college freshmen. This spring break, MilesAhead did just that. The company chartered a private plane from Ithaca to Westchester and trimmed eight passengers’ commute home from eight hours on a bus to forty-two minutes in a plane.

But that is just the start. MilesAhead works with over 300 clients – from college students to corporate executives – to curate personalized experiences and provide unparalleled service and expert advice when trips take unexpected turns. Whether it’s securing special seating at a prime restaurant or flying a sick traveler home for over thousands less than quoted by the airline, MilesAhead seeks to make the impossible possible when traveling.

CEO Rob Karp, COO Brian Becker, and Director of Recreation Nelson Billington shared their experiences with their fast moving, innovative startup:

What is MilesAhead?

Rob: MilesAhead is a high-end travel advisory firm focused on reward point optimization and the client experience. We are in the business of making people happy. Our philosophy is simple: we connect our clients with the people they need to know using our fast growing network of connections and save them money using our knowledge of frequent flyer miles and credit card points. This leads to unforgettable experiences, smiling faces, and ecstatic clients.

A client contacts you with travel needs. Walk me through what happens next.

Rob: We have a few sides to our business. We have our flights team that is run by Jack Kantor, our Director of Flights; he and his team of 3 tackle how people are going to get from Point A to Point B in the most efficient and cost effective way, whether that be cash, miles or a combination of both!

Nelson: Along with flight arrangements, we take our team’s personal travel experience combined with recommendations from our industry contacts, client preferences and host agency Valerie Wilson Travel. Each MilesAhead trip is totally customized, and no two are alike. Before the trip, we ensure that everyone from general managers to chefs to bellmen understand that a MilesAhead client is coming and to treat them with the utmost care.

A senior corporate executive and his family were headed to Blackberry Farm in Tennessee. The family had an infant and a dog in tow. We worked with the hotel to secure a dog bed, customize biscuits with the pooch’s name written in icing, and procure a stuffed bear for the infant. Pimento cheese, crackers, and red wine were also awaiting the couple in their room. After a long day of travel, the family loved seeing these unique touches not typically provided by the resort or another travel agency. Amenities like this are nothing out of the ordinary for MilesAhead, and we are always looking for innovative ways to enhance the client experience.

What is your competitive advantage?

Rob: Brian, Nelson, and I are in the Hotel School at Cornell because we genuinely care about service. Providing innovative and proactive hospitality to all of our clients is the backbone of MilesAhead; it gives us great pleasure to deliver over-the-top requests. We’re young and technologically savvy which means our clients know they can reach us at any hour via phone, email, or text message. It’s not uncommon for us to be switching flights or ensuring specific amenities are arranged in the wee hours of the morning. Finally, we are fortunate to have a great mentor supporting us, Valerie Wilson Travel (VWT). Based on Park Avenue in NYC, VWT is one of the country’s premier travel agencies; they open doors for us, provide instant credibility to suppliers, and have allowed the MilesAhead client experience to reach new heights.

Brian: We also offer a different perspective than most travel agencies. Our age is a differentiator in the industry, and we are a new breed of travel advisers. We are able to relate very well to families with teens, and can provide unique sets of advice to our clients. We all come from different backgrounds. Although we are eighteen, we have different interests. Nelson brings in his restaurant critiquing experience, I come with a hospitality focused restaurant/tech experience, and Rob grew up as an airline buff. (Side note: we love giving our clients and their kids tours around Cornell!)

How did you decide roles and equity?

Rob: I started the company when I was fourteen and have full ownership of the business. We started with $600 I made soccer refereeing back in the fall of 2012 and have organically grown ever since! Coming into Cornell, we had 1 employee and now we have a team of over 10. Nelson joined in the winter to run our recreation business, and recently Brian joined us as Chief Operations Officer after extensive work as an outside consultant.

big red rocketCongratulations on the launch of the Big Red Rocket. What was the biggest challenge of organizing that service?

Rob: Originally, the Big Red Rocket was an idea for a class project. I never thought we were going to make it happen. But, just before spring break, I was like “let’s charter a plane home and see what its like.” We cold-called the Vice President of a charter company (he initially thought we were crazy). After extensive back and forth and some hustling, we gained his support and launched the inaugural flight, transporting 7 of our friends home. We are now in the process of arranging service for graduation, and that has provided to be no easy task!

What is next for MilesAhead?

Brian: We are continuing to double down on improving our systems and processes. As we scale the business, it is essential that we deliver an exemplary level of service to all our clients. Our team will spend a good majority of the summer traveling to many of the destinations that we book for clients, ranging from Italy to Grand Cayman to Jackson Hole. We will use this opportunity to build relationships with key contacts at hotels, but also to experience each destination and develop the product that we want to sell to our clients. We (and our clients) are in this for more than just the booking transaction, we are in it for the experience. It’s an exciting future ahead for us, and we look forward to keeping the Cornell community up to date on our current (and future) projects.