Friday, September 3, 2010

Its hip, but is it better? A new airfare search engine called "Hipmunk" debuts

Photo by Ma1974
I guess the answer to the question posed in the headline would have to be "yes"... and "no".

Hipmunk, which has as its logo, for no apparent reason, a wide-eyed chipmunk in an aviator cap (note to founders: I'm no biologist but even I know its squirrels who fly, not chipmunks), has a colorful, very intuitive design--a definite strength. Here's how that design should help those who are looking for flights:
  • It color-codes airlines: Meaning that folks who are collecting frequent flyer miles don't have to slog through reams of data. They can quickly identify their airline's options.
  • It allows travelers to search only those airlines which are in the alliances they belong to:  This option is available on the tab on the front page of the site. Another primo innovation for miles collectors.
  • Flights are positioned on a graph, which gives the time both in the departure city and in the arrival city: Love that element! It makes it much clearer, on first glance, just how long the flight is and what kind of jetlag agony one may experience.
  • And speaking of "agony", it uses that term as a rubric for flights: Another terrific touch, reminding us that a flight with a too-short or a too-long layover, or too many stops along the way, may not be worth a small savings.
  • It shows, on the initial chart, the length of layovers: And the city in which they occur. That's usually info one has to dig for and its important. Bravo to Hipmunk for putting it front and center. 
But the search engine, from the brief whirl I gave it, doesn't seem to turn up any unusually good deals, of the sort one will sometimes find at or In fact, I pitted it against on a New York to Dallas routing, and Momondo beat it by $25.

This may be because it is currently only working with Orbitz (to buy any of the fares found on the site, one has to go to I shot out an email to Hipmunkand learned that the company is in talks with other entities (both airlines and other online travel agencies) which should broaden their search capabilities. We'll watch to how that plays out.

I also put Hipmunk to my fiendish "Gerona" test. It involves flying from New York City into that secondary airport and its baffled every search engine that I've tried it on. It is doable: You fly into Madrid and then, with the cushion of a 3-hour layover, switch to a Ryannair flight, which is in the same airport. But Hipmunk couldn't find that routing, though admittedly neither could the search engines I've touted above. According to Hipmunk's founders this problem stems from the fact that Ryanair won't partner with other airlines, meaning that travel agencies would have to issue two tickets for this routing; and should something go awry, it would be harder to rebook. Makes sense, but the search engines of the future (I'm hoping) will still show that this itinerary is doable, albeit potentially problematic.

So Hipmunk, if you're listening: I really like your style and am looking forward to your substance catching up with it.

1 comment:

  1. Disclaimer: I work for dohop.
    However dohop does find your itinerary:,JFK,EWR&a2=GRO&return=0&d1=120910

    Try opening filters and disabling everything but origin, destination and Madrid.

    It isn't your cheapest option however, ground transit aside you are better off transiting through Dublin it seems :)

    Atli Thorbjornsson