Jim Letourneau's Blog

Investing, Technology, Travel, Geology, Music, Golf. I think that covers it.

Planning a Trip? - Try Hipmunk.com

I first learned about the consequences of booking by price when landing at the Vancouver airport after a Hawaiian vacation with a young family. Landing at 11pm and not being able to leave until the next morning at 7am drove home the point that there was probably good reason to pay slightly more for a better itinerary.

A few years later, Expedia.com came along. Over time their deals became less valuable and the cancellation policies became more restrictive. Competitors like Travelocity, Priceline, Orbitz, CheapTickets and Kayak began sprouting up. I haven't booked a flight without first checking Kayak.com for several years. Kayak is known as an aggregator or meta site. It searches 100's of travel sites and presents airfare, hotel and car rental rates in a consistent format. Once you view the results, you are free to purchase travel at the site you prefer. I love knowing what my options are. Kayak has slider bars for departure/arrival times, trip/layover duration, and price. It also has check boxes for "red eye" flights, wi-fi and plane type. The default listing is by price.

Today I ran across a new service called Hipmunk.com (Since the good domain names have been tied up for some time, it is difficult for new services to come up with a name that actually describes what the service is...but I digress.)

Hipmunk simplifies many travel parameters and comes up with a simplified "agony" ranking which is derived from a combination of price, duration and number of stops.

Today's Calgary weather forecast includes wet snow/snow/light snow  (we're snow connoisseurs in Calgary) over the next two days so I punched up a fantasy trip to the mythical destination of Kokomo. In this example the agony and price screens are identical. In comparing the top two flights (United vs. Westjet), the $185 saving on the United flight compensates for an additional layover and an extra 3 hours and 49 minutes of travel time.

Travellers make subconscious tradeoffs about flights all the time but Hipmunk does the best job of informing travellers about their options. The trend towards informed travellers with comparative price information at their fingertips has caused to incorporate hidden fees. Unfortunately most travel sites do not incorporate these non-standard fees into their searches. Things like food, picking your seat location, checking a suitcase, or even talking to a company representative on a phone are "fare" game.

While I can't imagine schlepping 1oo pounds of luggage to paradise, United will charge you $25 for your first bag and $35 for the second. Westjet only charges $20 for the second 50 pound bag. In addition, Westjet has newer planes with inflight seatback video which could be important of travelling with children. Don't forget the UBG factor as well.

I'm going to use Hipmunk.com for my future travel planning. I'll have more on their interesting hotel search function in a future post.