There are travel sites for purchasing tickets and pre-paying for accommodations, and then there are those that merely act as the search engine, helping you figure out the details that matter, but not going so far as to let you put down a credit card. One such travel search engine, Hipmunk (free) rather remarkably finds and displays all the pertinent details about a flight in an easy-to-read graph. Side-by-side comparisons in its unique chart view help you figure out which flights meet all your criteria. Hipmunk also has a hotel search component, although it doesn’t include car rental reservations or package deals, like the flight-hotel combos you can often find on Orbitz, our Editors’ Choice among travel search sites, that can shave big bucks off the total cost of a vacation.
Nevertheless, Hipmunk stands out for having a few special features that make it easy to find a flight that will be comfortable for you, and accommodations that also fit your needs—even if you can’t find them in a standard hotel.
Signature Features in Flight Search
Hipmunk’s signature feature in helping you find the right flight is how it displays the results in a color-coded graph that’s plotted against time. Different color bars represent different airlines and total flight duration, including layover. Hipmunk effectively lets you see at a glance and side-by-side different airlines and whether they have the shortest travel time, best layover option, or lowest price. Layover airport codes also show up right on the graph itself, and if you are familiar with three letter combinations (LHR, ORD, JFK, LAX, shall I go on?), this inclusion adds immense visibility into which airport you could be stuck in and for how long.
Hipmunk also has a default sort setting called “Agony” that takes into consideration all those factors to put first the flights that are likely to be the most tolerable. In testing, the site’s best-ranked flights were very often also the cheapest.
The flight search aggregator doesn’t quite tick all the boxes, though, with limitations on searching for a trip with flexible dates. You can open a section called Price Graph that lets you see which dates in a particular stretch of time will have the lowest fares for a roundtrip—for example, a flight from New York to Buenos Aires for 10 days in May—but this feature on Hipmunk doesn’t have nearly as much flexibility as the same feature on Orbitz. Orbitz gives you much more control over your desired dates, length of trip, and even which airports are acceptable within a geographic range.
Even in the regular search box for flights, Hipmunk doesn’t let you tick off airports you like, as Kayak does, which causes problems for travelers who simply refuse to go to Newark—just as an example, of course—but don’t mind the two other airports in the New York area.
To Hipmunk’s credit, it does search equally well for both domestic U.S. and international travel.
Sliders at the top of the page let you quickly narrow down your search based on departure or arrival time. Flights that have Wi-Fi on board include a Wi-Fi icon right on the results matrix. Hipmunk is extremely intuitive to use.
My favorite feature, however, is one that’s so simple I can’t believe other flight search apps don’t use it: tabs! Hipmunk’s site lets you have multiple search results open at any given time. Tabs also make it easy to switch between the results you’ve found for comparative shopping. Considering Hipmunk doesn’t have hotel-flight combo deals, you might need to have at least two tabs open at all times (one for flights and one for a hotel search).
Special Features in Hotel Search
Hotel search results also use neat visual displays to make it easy to sort through the options, although Hipmunk actually shows them better on its iPad app (free, 3.5 stars) than the full website. For example, the iPad app has a heat map of nightlife, as well as a map that shows pedestrian-friendly areas, which you can turn on while looking at hotel locations. The website, on the other hand, just has a few filters and doesn’t do any neat tricks in how it displays information about them: family, LGBT, romance, business, and adventure.
The accommodations results include not just hotel listings, but also private apartments and houses that you can rent from Airbnb and HomeAway. When you need a room in a very specific location or at a flexible price, these two services can really open up your options, and it’s a god-send that Hipmunk includes them.
TripAdvisor, Airbnb, and other ratings are included in the hotel results as well, giving you yet other metrics on which to judge the decency of a particular place to sleep.
As with Bing Travel and Google Flights, Hipmunk sends you to a merchant site once you’re ready to make a reservation. The benefit is that you get the best possible price; the compromise is that there’s no pricing guarantee from Hipmunk (there may be at the point of sale, though, depending on where you go to book). Hipmunk will send you to an airline website directly, or Orbitz, or Airbnb—wherever has the best price.
Price and Priorities
Hipmunk is the site you should use first to search for flights when travel time and layover options are of the utmost importance, but once you’ve found the flight you want, you’ll probably end up on Orbitz or another booking site anyhow. Hipmunk can help you find the right air travel itinerary or accommodation quickly and efficiently—just not pay for it. It doesn’t have packaged deals for hotel-flight combos, or car rental reservations, which could cause more work for you in the end. But it’s simple to use and can get the job done quickly and efficiently if you’re not too picky about airports and know precisely which days you need to travel.
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Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc