God Save The Points calls out Upgrade Pack, a startup which promises discounted airline and hotel upgrades. He apologizes for giving coverage to the startup over a year ago, since customers paid money to the company but there’s still no product.
I reached out to Upgrade Pack for an update, since I’d seen them opening offices across multiple continents (Asia, North America, Europe), hiring more than 30 staff and regularly seen flying in business or first class on a monthly basis or greater at the dime of their investors.
…Most startups without a downloadable product barely have one office, let alone multiple, and even the start up founders don’t fly in premium cabins or stay in five star hotels.
Constant office expansion, luxury travel, corporate outings, yet a product anyone could touch, even in its greatest infancy had not been introduced.
Upgrade Pack responded on twitter, defending itself from charges they’ve simply been raising money and hiring employees by arguing that they’ve been successful in raising lots of money and hiring lots of people.
— Upgrade Pack (@UpgradePack) February 17, 2020
They also complain that God Save The Points was ‘triggered’ by their refusal to provide ‘confidential information,’ which appears to be if they say they are working with “dozens of airline and hotel partners” to provide upgrades, which ones are they working with, at least an example? And since they’ve sold memberships to customers, it’s not unreasonable to ask what those customers might eventually be getting? Upgrade Pack appears to consider any facts that might give them credibility to be confidential, yet we should trust them.
Now they are blaming coronavirus for why they’re not in the marketplace. That reminds me of now-defunct Via Air blaming the grounding of the Boeing 737 MAX for the all-regional jet airline’s operational problems, or the time when the Hilton Deerfield Beach blamed 9/11 for slow room service (in 2006).
While Upgrade Pack was ostensibly founded in 2018 their twitter account shows a January 2011 join date.
God Save The Points follows up, sharing some of the accusations he’s heard leveled at the company he says by current employees. Among other things, he reports:
it’s purported that Upgrade Pack encouraged employees to anonymously invest in the SEEDRS funding, on the understanding that they’d be reimbursed by the company. The goal was to drum up buzz and interest on the platform from outsiders by exaggerating SEEDR numbers. GSTP has seen first hand communication of this phenomenon between UP employees.
it’s purported that as of this moment, zero commercial agreements with airlines or hotels are actually in place. The only current area of exploration is an API feed with British Airways, with a serious caveat – they can’t offer discounts.
I don’t know whether Upgrade Pack will have product in the marketplace that resembles the marketing, what partners they’ll work with, and whether they’ll deliver value. I do know that I get a strong sense for the validity of criticism from how a company responds to criticism. Here their defense seems to be that at least some of the charges against them are true.
Are they the next Fyre festival (I’ve seen some oblique references on twitter, and God Save the Points references in his follow up)? I don’t think so, if only because they lack the scale and grandiosity. And I don’t think their business model is as flawed as Avatar Airlines (or Baltia).
But based on their track record of failing to deliver so far I’d put them in the basket of companies I’m skeptical about, and guess they’re more likely than not to wind up one of a long line of startups without a viable product ever in the marketplace.