UCI colege students planning trip on Elude

These University of California Irvine students want to get away, but they’re on limited budgets. So they’re planning a weekend escape on Elude, a travel app that suggests a destination based on your budget. Photo by Isabella Lieberman

Summer has arrived and everyone is being bitten by the travel bug. To make up for lost time spent indoors over the past two years, people are scrambling to get out of the house, breathe some fresh air, and explore new places they could only dream of during the first wave of the pandemic. When planning a trip, there are so many websites to turn to: Expedia, Booking.com, cheapflights.com and Travelocity. They all follow the same formula that is focused on making you the travel agent: input the destination, dates, how many travelers and your city of departure. The remaining requirement, after scrolling through pages of alternatives, is to provide a credit card number.

Travel seekers who gain the most out of these sites have a definitive idea of where they want to go. Consumers who are not concerned with the cost can choose a flight and place to stay after only one search. Though this process is stress-free for the ticketing company, it can be a nightmare for people on a budget.

Elude CEO Alex Simon

Thrifty travelers take hours cross-referencing and sifting through multiple tabs on their desktop to get the best deal.

This tedious process conflicts with the Gen-Z and Millennial mindset to get up and go. And with a combined annual spending power of $200 billion they have the money to make it happen. Aspiring travelers of these generations do not have the patience or time to spend hours meticulously searching the internet for a fulfilling and reasonably priced trip. People just entering the workforce are not looking for a luxury vacation, they just want to minimize costs and go on an adventure.

Entrepreneurs Alex Simon and Frankie Scerbo created a solution to this problem by designing Elude in 2019. The website creatively features a twist on travel planning by prioritizing budget before destination.  Alex described to Fortune Magazine, his prior experience spending, “hours researching affordable getaways and trips to escape monotonous, daily routines and explore new places and learn about other cultures.”

With the app Elude, Gen-Z and Millennial travelers are able to instantly see a plethora of options within their spending limit. For travelers with a specific destination in mind, the app allows the consumer to choose between three options: Flights, Flights & Hotels and Hotels. These features enable users to utilize the app as they would with Expedia.

Based out of Los Angeles, Simon serves as the company’s CEO while Scerbo is Chief of Marketing. The app was officially launched in August 2021, and, during the app’s initial stages, the duo raised around $2.1 million in seed funding, catching the eye of many investors such as Mucker Capital and Unicorn Ventures. Intrigued by the app’s innovative take on travel planning, Priceline.com’s Jeff Hoffman told Business Wire, “As an active investor and advisor in the travel industry, I have seen numerous ideas and attempts to reframe the travel booking process, and none of them grabbed my attention the way Elude did.”

The Elude Package

There is currently a disconnect between the features of popularly used travel sites, like Expedia, and the increasingly new demands of the upcoming generations. “Booking travel hasn’t changed in over 10+ years and is ripe for disruption,” says Simon. By offering people a new alternative to the archaic approach to travel planning, the world can suddenly become more open to Gen-Z and Millennial travelers.

To test Elude’s feature, I asked a group of college students to plan a trip using Expedia with a budget of around $1500. Not surprisingly, they had no idea where to begin.

“‘This is too much work.’  ‘Which site is the cheapest?’ ‘Where should I go?’” were the most common complaints from the Gen-Z group.

Starting out, they all immediately tried to travel overseas. Going to a place like France, Italy, or Japan was impossible within their budget, and a fulfilling destination seemed unobtainable. Confessed 21-year-old Stig Eneberg: “I’m too broke for all these places.”

After spending thirty minutes searching for somewhere affordable, students either left disappointed or settled on a single destination. Out of options, college senior Liam Dutton, asserted, “There’s nowhere I can afford and seems interesting to go.” The only country seemingly available outside of the United States was Mexico, but the majority of results were centered around domestic travel, like New York and Las Vegas.

The discouraged students were given Elude to plan an affordable getaway. Within minutes, their choices were no longer limited and their passion for travel was reignited.

Upon opening the app, the Elude Package provides an easy experience for eager travelers by taking away the stress of having to stay around their budget. Immediately the user is asked what they are willing to pay, then it prompts them to select their current location, dates of departure/return, and the number of travelers. When done, hit Explore, and Elude takes care of the rest, giving a roundtrip flight and hotel reservations in an array of places they can afford. The co-founder, Scerbo, explains this as, “You’re literally seeing everything you can afford to get to, instead of … everything you can’t afford to get to.”

From Alaska to Dublin, the trip shortlist suggested thirteen unique locations for the aspiring group of Gen-Z and Millennial travelers with a budget of $1500. For as low as $625, two people can fly and spend the weekend in Denver, Colorado. To explore all these possibilities, click the image below!

Elude’s contemporary approach to travel planning is structured to appeal to Gen-Z and Millennials, who desire to escape and see exciting locations within their country and around the world. Ranging from domestic to foreign travel, people can see how far their budget can take them. The students were surprised by the variety of destinations they could choose from. 20-year-old Medha Dandamudi commented, “I didn’t even think Europe was an option for $1500.”

The Elude Package is revolutionary to the travel industry and caters specifically to this upcoming generation’s needs. Setting the budget first not only streamlines the process of organizing a trip but also gives the user a sense of spontaneity that is lacking in other travel sites. “I am tempted to just book this trip now,” eager Gen-Z traveler, Jasmine Carwell, said.

Elude is currently working on a rewards system that incentivizes consumers, with discounts that can be used on future trips. After completing a trip, a client collects a themed sticker identifying his destination. This allows people to showcase where they have traveled with the ability to “Gain bragging rights, cherished mementos, and savings on future excursions,” Elude explains. Additionally, users avoid extra transactional fees when using Elude; the company’s business model is designed to make commissions from its network of flight and hotel data providers. Elude prevents the consumer from having to spend all their disposable income on one trip, making it possible to take numerous trips throughout the year with more opportunities to explore and discover the world.


Elude will ask new users Tinder-like questions


Time and money are not the only aspects that appeal to the younger generation. Millennials and Gen-Z do not follow the trends of typical travelers. According to The Wandering RV, people are beginning to look more for opportunities to immerse themselves in an area’s culture, as a local, rather than going to tourist hotspots. Since coming out of the pandemic, dense and high-traffic tourist attractions are becoming less and less appealing. Elude provides consumers with an authentic traveling experience by exposing people to the hidden gems of the world.

“Instead of planning trips to landmark locations, our users are searching for quiet treasures that offer refuge from the hustle of city life,” says Scerbo. “We’re thrilled to lead the industry into its next chapter, rebuilding an ecosystem of adventurers that was disjointed during the pandemic.”

Indeed, Elude gives you the chance to find adventures in places you might not even have heard of.


Personalized Perks

Expedia and other travel sites have a transactional relationship with users whereas Elude develops a connection with its travelers. When joining the app, new members are asked a series of funny and random questions, with a format that is
reminiscent of popular dating apps like Tinder. From food to various activities, Elude covers all the grounds in seeking out someone’s ideal vacation. After swiping through their survey, the app compiles the answers and curates itineraries based on the individual’s travel preferences. The more someone travels and engages within the app, Elude personalizes and strengthens its understanding of a user’s tastes, leading to more fulfilling and tailored trips. “By analyzing their past trip patterns, we want to provide users with their ideal destinations before they even know it themselves,” Simon commented in Fortune Magazine. This feature is accessible through the app’s Recommended Trips on the homepage.
Elude offers a new way of traveling for Gen-Z and Millennials, creating a world where impromptu traveling is possible on a budget. By helping to alleviate the pain of searching for an economical trip, Elude allows the traveler to focus on the adventure while creating long-lasting memories.

Currently, Elude’s app is only available through its website, Elude.co, or for download on Apple’s App Store, however, within the next year it will be available on Android.

Isabella Lieberman studies economics and literary journalism at the University of California, Irvine. She writes for the East-West News Service and the Orange County Business Journal.