In the last two years Google and Microsoft both made multimillion-dollar acquisitions to bolster their search offerings for airline flight times. Small startup Hipmunk has become a serious contender using a different weapon: a stripped-down yet powerful design.
The Hipmunk experience starts with a home page featuring a simple interface for entering your trip details. It ends with a results page that is more like an infographic than the ranked list of text entries produced by a traditional search engine. Flights and their duration are shown as colorful bars; a glance and five clicks is enough to select flights and get ready to pay for them. All the large flight search sites, including Expedia and Kayak, get their data from the same source, ITA software—but Hipmunk is succeeding by finding new ways to work with that same information.
Users may not notice how few clicks they need or how simple Hipmunk’s calendar is, but they do notice that they get things done faster, says Adam Goldstein, who founded the company with Steve Huffman in mid-2010. “We want you to see all of the relevant options on a single page or, better yet, a single screen,” he says. “And you need to be able to see the tradeoffs between the choices.”
The bars that Hipmunk uses to represent flights make it easy to compare them by departure time, arrival time, and duration. Choices are ordered not by price—as is usual for flight results—but by a measure of something frequent fliers are all too familiar with: agony. As Hipmunk defines it, “agony” is a combination of price, overall trip duration, and number of stops.
“Every other flight search ranking is by price, but it’s stupid to save five dollars and spend five hours more in an airport,” says Goldstein. “Ranking by price alone is an implied value judgment, and if you’re doing that, it should be one people agree with.”