Pomelo Travel, a business founded in 2014 by BYU-Hawaii alum Chris Muhlestein, has helped students purchase round-trip tickets for less than $600 to destinations in Asia, Europe, and other parts of the world.
A handful of students used Pomelo’s travel deals during the breaks between semesters, specifically the one-week break before the Spring 2017 Semester. On Nov. 21, 2016, Chris posted on the Facebook group “sell your stuff @ BYU-Hawaii” a link to Pomelo’s site showing a special deal for round-trip tickets for $400 from Honolulu to cities like Amsterdam, Barcelona, and Paris.
Kathryn Wells, a Colorado senior in human resources, said she initially thought Pomelo was a scam. “After questioning it, I had a friend tell me it was legit. There was a [round-trip] flight for $400 to France. We looked into it and had less than 24 hours, so we had to act quickly. I have never made an impulsive decision so big, but my roommates and I went for it and didn’t even think about it. Afterwards, I was freaking out,” she said. They booked their tickets to Paris, France.
Wells said her research on Pomelo led her to understand that the site alerts people about airfares but lets the user book the ticket through the airline directly. Wells said, “My roommates and I booked through Delta.
The trip was a success, said Wells. “France was amazing, I loved the Catacombs and the Louvre. Notre Dame was beautiful, and even though it’s not part of my religion, I could still feel that it is a special place to find peace.”
Kinsey Brown, a senior in biomedicine from California, said she found out about Pomelo from Scott Muhlestein, Chris’ brother. “I saw Scott at Foodland, and he told me about what he and Chris did. I started following his blog where he posts mistake fares. The airline workers will input the wrong price or try to sell out a ticket. He flew to Hawaii from Salt Lake for $90 one time. We get a couple emails a week for flights from any major North American city to any major city in Europe.”
Brown purchased tickets to Rome, Italy with her husband. “It was cheaper than going home to visit family! It was a really good deal, and it was round trip.” Brown said decisions to book have to be spontaneous because the deals usually last less than 24 hours. “I have always wanted to go to Rome, so I called Kevin and we booked our tickets,” said Brown.
“It’s not one of those dumb scams. I’ve had friends from home take their family of eight to England. It’s definitely worth it, especially for students who want to go around the world. To be able to travel that cheap and not have to save up for a long time is really nice,” Brown added. She said her favorite part of her trip was seeing the Coliseum in person and seeing the history of Rome. “Pomelo Travel is life,” Brown said with a smile.
According to Pomelo’s website, Chris and his uncle Ralph Brown “had the experience of a lifetime on an extended international trip. They explored several countries throughout Asia and the Middle East, living in rural communities for weeks at a time, learning what they could from the people there.” Eventually, after Ralph’s passing, Chris started Pomelo through connections made during his travels.
Originally, Pomelo started by bringing groups in to Asian countries. Chris then began bringing small groups to get to know the more rural parts of Asia. The groups do volunteer projects for local communities and do some sightseeing as part of the itinerary.
Chris, currently living in Laie, said, “The project based trips are kind of the backbone of Pomelo.”
Scott Muhlestein, a junior English major from Utah, works part time for Pomelo doing graphic design. He said, “The purpose is to just get people out there, hopefully coming home with a new perspective on what it means to live a whole-hearted life and broaden people’s horizons.
“A lot of our work is done in rural communities, and I’m aware of the problems that come when bringing in big groups of tourists. A group of 20 people can overwhelm the whole village. So we have fairly established roots and connections wherever we go, and we keep our groups small.”
Scott said Pomelo has staff members are across the world. “We have a group that works out of the U.S. and two people who work out of the U.K. Then we have full teams that work on location in Cambodia, Laos, and other Asian countries.”
Chris said, “There are two parts to Pomelo: you can travel with us, or if you want to travel on your own you can use the flight alerts.” The flight alerts are newer, he said, and began last June.
Customers can sign up for a free or paid subscription. Free subscribers receive one email every few days with different flight deals that Chris has found. Paid subscribers sometimes receive several alerts in a day and receive more deals. The paid subscription is $3 per month, but subscribers will pay $36 for the whole year up front.