Uber began as "everyone's private driver," and might soon become "everyone's private travel agent."
According to a new patent the ride-hailing company was granted on December 24, Uber is interested in potentially providing a web portal for booking travel logistics, à la Kayak and Expedia, that includes Uber rides as well. Dubbed "Uber Travel," it looks like most other travel search engines, though the ability to plan when a customer should call an Uber ride lets it cover even the first and last mile of a trip.
According to the patent document, the system would connect to the networks of airlines so it can not only pull flight information to book flights, but also monitor delays and anything affecting a flight's departure and arrival times. Additionally, it would connect to hotels and alternative accommodations like home-sharing company Airbnb. The core goal is to notify a passenger via mobile at the exact time they should request an Uber ride. Not surprisingly, Howard Jaffe, who heads Uber's global procurement and supply chain, is credited as the patent's inventor.
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Though the system could be helpful to most any traveler, it would be particularly beneficial for business travelers. Uber has been working to promote its services to businesses as an alternative to ferrying employees via taxi or black car companies. Airbnb, another San Francisco-based startup that's also upended a traditional industry, has been similarly working to provide its services to business travelers. For example, it recently overhauled its tools to help company travel managers more easily book and track accommodations for employees. Uber's patented portal could be a tool it wants to use to further entice corporate travel managers.
Uber could potentially also take a small cut for flights and accommodations booked through its service, though it's not clear if the company plans to do so, if it even deploys such a travel booking service at all.
One irony, however, is that Uber (and rival Lyft) is still not allowed to pick up or drop off passengers in all major airports. Though the companies have been slowly gaining access to some airports, there's still a long road ahead. Uber Travel can't work unless drivers can legally pick up and drop off passengers at airports.
Uber declined to comment.