The Thrifty Traveler Is Still Flying High
As a bank examiner, Jared Kamrowski logged 100 nights a year on the road, staying in budget motels in Minnesota and North Dakota. Seven years ago, he quit his job to help people travel better. So when Covid-19 stopped almost all travel, the entrepreneur was facing a near-death experience. “All I did were cash-flow scenarios for days.”
Though many Americans stopped traveling for two years, Kamrowski’s business, Thrifty Traveler, lost only 15% of its paid subscribers, as people became armchair travelers during the peak of the pandemic. “We were still losing tens of thousands of dollars,” he says, “but it reassured me that what we were doing had value to people.”
Thrifty Traveler launched in 2015 from Kamrowski’s laptop, bootstrapped without outside financing. The website focused on the crowded points-and-miles field, where large national blogs duke it out with tips and tools to maximize travelers’ chosen points currency from credit cards, along with travel news and hotel reviews. “It was a side hustle until 2018, really,” he says.
That year, a Christmas Day flash sale on Emirates Air crashed the site, telling Kamrowski he had a real business on his hands. It was also a sign to pivot to a subscription model, rather than rely on revenue from commissions that banks pay for converting a reader into a credit cardholder, as most of his competitors do.
Today Thrifty generates more than a million monthly page views and has sold 25,000 $60 subscriptions (some at a discount) that get subscribers a daily email of flight deals geared to users’ home airports. Subscribers are mostly Gen Z, younger millennials, and retirees, the populations with more flexible schedules. (The 35- to 60-year-old cohort tends to lack the flexibility to jump on flash sales geared to low-demand seasons.)
Subscriber counts have doubled in the last year, and subscriptions are now the business’ largest source of revenue. “I’d much rather have a premium subscriber than sell someone a credit card,” Kamrowski says.
Kamrowski’s goal remains “constant iteration; I want to scale.” The company now has 11 employees, because efforts to automate fare searches have proved futile; three staffers in the Philippines even scour the fare universe while America sleeps.