Hipmunk Review: A New Approach to Flight Search

Fred Perrotta

Magnifying Glass IconThis post is part of our Travel Product Review series. At Tortuga Backpacks, we love to find the perfect tool for the job. We couldn’t find the perfect travel backpack, so we created it. When we find other great products, we like to let you know about them with a review. The following review was unpaid and unsolicited. It reflects the opinion of its author only and is based on his/her own experiences.

When booking a flight online, you really want to know which is the best flight. Unfortunately, that’s not a search option. Sorting by price is good, but what if the cheapest flight has two layovers and arrives at 4am while a direct flight that arrives during the day is only $20 more? Most of us would happily pay more for the added convenience, but how do you find that option buried among hundreds of dizzyingly similar results?

Despite computers being much better than humans at analyzing large amounts of data, online flight search engines burden their users with the task of sifting through every combination of carrier, departure flight, layover city, and return flight. These sites do not intelligently analyze their results. They dump them on their customers forcing us to try to make sense of the mess.

A new startup, Hipmunk, is changing the flight search paradigm to be far more user friendly. Hipmunk decides which flights are the best and lists them in that order. How novel! The results are displayed in an easily interpreted interface of colored bars, much like a Gantt chart, rather than as an endless list of departure times.

Biggest Benefit: Flights Sorted by “Agony”

By default, Hipmunk sorts flight results by a measure they call “agony,” rather than just price. Hipmunk’s agony score weighs the price, duration, and number of stops for each flight into one single factor. To make the list of results even clearer, Hipmunk hides similar flights that it considers more agonizing, such as a flight on the same airline that leaves earlier and arrives later. Their competitors let these inferior options clutter the results. By hiding worse options, Hipmunk is able to display all of their results on one, ad-free, visually-appealing page.

Sorting by agony shows that Hipmunk is focused on ease of use, not overloading a user with unnecessary options (like Orbitz’s ridiculous “I prefer non-stop flights” checkbox) and results. What good are 500+ results if you don’t find the best one because it’s buried six pages deep?

Search results on Hipmunk.com
Sample results from Hipmunk. Click the image to view larger.

Field Test

To compare Hipmunk’s results against major competitors, I conducted one example domestic flight search and one example international flight search on Hipmunk, Kayak, Orbitz, and Expedia. The test, and results, are far from scientific.

Route: LAX to LGA
Dates: March 3-12

All four sites yielded the same first result, a Frontier flight via Kansas City.

Kayak’s second result is another Frontier flight with two stops enroute to New York, which is only $3 cheaper than the rest of the flights on their first page, all from Delta with only one stop. This flight is a great example of why price alone is not a good enough ranking factor. No one would book this flight given the other options, so it should not be displayed, especially not as the second result.

On Orbitz, results 2-10 are all on Delta with the exact same departure flight, at 1:40am!

Expedia has the same second result as Kayak but a greater variety of carriers and departure times.

Hipmunk’s results definitely showed the most variety of carriers and did not include any flights with multiple stops. Hipmunk for the win.

Route: MIA to EZE (Buenos Aires)
Dates: May 2-22

In last place was Expedia, with zero results. Wow. Simply inexcusable.

Kayak and Orbitz returned similar results, mostly on TAM Airlines and with more than ten unique sub-$1,000 flights.

Here, Hipmunk came up a bit short with only one visible itinerary under $1,000. While Hipmunk’s results included a variety of flights and carriers, they could benefit from additional low-priced international inventory. However, other international searches did yield more competitive results from Hipmunk, showing that the depth of their international inventory varies by destination and carrier.

Final Verdict



Bottom Line: Hipmunk has the most customer-centric user interface of any flight search engine and, with additional inventory and search options, is poised to become the best overall product on the market.

Have you used Hipmunk? Let us know your opinion in the comments.

Photo (Hipmunk.com)