Hipmunk: Mobile Flight and Hotel Search

I know I don’t have to tell you that searching for and purchasing airline tickets is an incredible pain. Attempting a simple search often results in elevating your blood pressure followed by either anger or remorse because you know you didn’t get the right tickets. It’s a horrible experience nearly across the board.

I say “nearly,” because one start-up has been doing some great work at making that experience less awful. Let’s be honest, the bar has been set pretty low, so any improvement would be noticed, but Hipmunk has made some serious strides. Their web service is by far the best for searching for airline and hotel travel and they also have an accompanying iPhone App which is what we’ll be taking a look at today. Does the experience spill over to mobile devices or does it fall short? Read on to find out.

A Different Strategy

Hipmunk’s real innovation is its re-imagining how flight search should work. In fact, it almost mocks the industry by using an “agony” metric. They’re trying to solve the problem that so many people have, and that is struggling to find the right flight at a decent price.

The web service has been around for a while now and has received critical acclaim. They pay very close attention to design and functionality trying to provide their customers with the best possible experience. With that knowledge of the company and their web service I was anxious to give their iPhone application a try.

Entering the Search

The first thing that is noticeable is that the interface is simple. The first screen, similar to the website, asks you for the basic information required to search for a flight. It’s a completely obvious design that you can jump right into — there’s no learning curve.

On the opening screen you’ll find fields to enter your departure and destination airports. Tapping one of those fields launches a live search function that is super responsive (given you have a decent network connection, of course).

The search form along with the quick search for airports

The search form along with the quick search for airports

The application puts a slightly different (at least from what I’ve seen) spin on selecting a date. Tapping on that field loads a calendar. You’ll see a visual representation of a calendar with each month connected to the next, so it’s essentially one huge calendar that you scroll through. You tap on your departure date and then can immediately tap on your returning date if you’re picking a round-trip flight. You’ll then see the date nicely formatted in the field. The simple capability to search in one huge calendar, rather than flipping from month to month, along with being able to select two dates at the same time make this date picker just awesome.

The awesome date picker and what you'll see while you're search is processing

The awesome date picker and what you'll see while you're search is processing

It sounds a bit strange to get this excited over a data picker, but it just shows how a simple design adjustment can make a huge difference in the overall experience.

Some buttons allow you to toggle the class of flight you’d like to search and a plus/minus field lets you modify the number of people you’d like to search for with the tap of a button. So really, within about thirty seconds (or less) you’ll be searching for the specific flight you want.

Search Results

The search results in your quest for the perfect flight are even more important than entering your query. If you’ve never done a search on the Hipmunk website I would encourage you to do so. The format in which you are presented the results is extremely different from what you’re used to. A more visual representation is used, which can be a bit shocking, but after a second or two to digest what you’re looking at it’s a much better and easier method to find your flight.

The iPhone application provides results in a similar fashion. The same functionality is there along with a familiar looking chart. If you’re not familiar with the format you’ll see cost along the vertical axis and the time and flight duration along the horizontal. Tapping on a flight within the chart opens more information specifically on that flight.

Displaying search results. One flight has been expanded to show more info

Displaying search results. One flight has been expanded to show more info

The touch features the iPhone brings fits the experience of browsing the chart perfectly. You’re able to quickly scroll through the results as well as toggle the standard Hipmunk filters, agony, cost, depart, and length. I would argue that it’s actually easier and a better experience investigating Hipmunk search results on an iPhone when compared to a computer web browser.

Once you’ve selected the flight you’d like, you’re taken to a screen with a summary of your flight along with the option to then finish at a computer. This is a pretty cool feature. A link is provided (finish.hipmunk.com) along with a phrase, which you enter once at the website to recall your selected flight. Doing this will give you links to your purchase options which will be through another service (i.e. Orbitz).

Showing the flight selected summary as well as options to book

Showing the flight selected summary as well as options to book

You’re also able to email the booking link if you’d like to send it to someone else or maybe just get to it yourself later. I could see this being super handy. You’re heading home on the train and decide to search for that vacation flight. You find the perfect one at a good price, but can’t make the purchase right there. No problem, just email the booking link to yourself or your significant other. An email will arrive with the flight summary and a link to book the flight.

Here's what an email with the booking link looks like

Here's what an email with the booking link looks like

These are really great options to provide. They allow for some serious flexibility and could come in handy in a number of situations. Hipmunk is trying to make the experience as painless as possible down to the very last thing that they can control — it’s as if they actually care. Could it be?

Oh Yeah, and Also Hotel Search

I’ve focused completely on the Hipmunk flight search functionality, but I should also mention that the hotel search is extremely handy as well. Hipmunk’s hotel web search isn’t as ground breaking, but it’s about as nice of an experience as you’ll find. The iPhone app is in the same vein. Just like with flight search, the core functionality is similar to their web service, but it’s able to harness the power of the iPhone and use its features such as geographic location.

Searching for a hotel and displaying some results nearby

Searching for a hotel and displaying some results nearby

Similar features to actually book rooms are available. You have the ability to email the booking link, or go to the finish website again and enter in a phrase to get the booking links.

Displaying results and what you'd see after tapping on one of the items

Displaying results and what you'd see after tapping on one of the items

Again, it’s probably a better hotel searching experience on the iPhone as well. Combined with the touch and GPS functionality of the iPhone, it is a powerful tool.

Conclusion

If you’re a frequent traveler — heck, even if you’re a once a year traveler — do yourself a favor and give the Hipmunk iPhone app a try. You won’t find a better flight search tool and I have to believe their hotel search is in the same realm.

It’s easy to see that Hipmunk pays extremely close attention to design and how it impacts their customers. They are trying to change the way flight and hotel search is done, which is no easy task, and they are doing a fantastic job. Their website is a wonderful tool and now combined with their apps I see no other reason to look elsewhere. They’ve got you covered no matter where you are. Flight and hotel search has taken a couple huge steps in the right direction.


Summary

A companion iPhone application to the Hipmunk flight and hotel search tool.

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