Hipmunk Flight Search iPad App – Review

By Ben Rossi on 11 July 2011
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Building on the success of its iPhone app, Hipmunk, a travel search site, has come out with a version 1.1 universal app optimized for iPad, and the results are fairly impressive. A few bugs and limitations notwithstanding, Hipmunk is one of the better booking apps available.

As with its previous Web and mobile app incarnations, Hipmunk app’s interface and display are its strongest selling points. Tap in your destination and travel dates, and Hipmunk delivers search results laid out in its signature chart view, which provides a visual representation of the total flight time (including layovers) as well as departure and arrival times. This makes it simple to determine which flights are compatible with your schedule.

By default, search results are sorted using the “Agony” rating, a combination of flight duration, price, and number of layovers, but tabs also let you sort by cost, total flight duration, and departure time. You can also use sliders along the chart’s axis to filter results according to departure and arrival time. The app saves up to five recent searches so you don’t have to go back and reenter your information every time.

Hipmunk searches tend to offer a wide range of results for a single trip. Take, for example, a flight planned for August 3 from the New York City area to Stuttgart in business class, sorted by cost. Ignoring the first listing, which is inexplicably for Singapore Airlines in coach ($923 RT), the two cheapest flights are Air Berlin via either Berlin (TXL) or Düsseldorf (DUS) for $1211 and $1209 respectively. Hipmunk lists a “mystery airline” for $1976 via London (LHR) along with a variety of possibilities including non-stops from Newark (EWR) on Continental ($5688), which was the first in the “length” category but not in the “agony” sort due to its middle-of-the-road cost (the most expensive flight was a Delta flight via Manchester (MAN) for $7847).

When you want to book a flight, selecting a result gives you the option of booking with the airline or Orbitz using the iPad’s Safari app. If you don’t want to tap in credit card information, the app gives you a finish.hipmunk.com URL and code so you can book the flight from a laptop. You can also e-mail this link to friends.

Unlike its Web counterpart, the Hipmunk app doesn’t have a hotel booking component. In addition, the app has some limitations compared to the Web version. One significant flaw is that the app doesn’t allow you to customize results by selecting preferred airlines or plan multi-city trips. Its filtering options are also limited compared to the Web incarnation: while the latter allows you to look at only non-stop options, exclude morning departures, and toggle red-eye flights, the app disposes of all these filters. The non-stop option, in particular, is sorely missed here; as it is, finding these flights almost always involves at least some tedious scrolling through results.

I also noticed a search-related bug as I was testing the app. Hipmunk fails to search when you change the departure or arrival airport to an airport in the same city as the original search, keeping everything else the same. If you do a search for flights from, for example, New York’s JFK airport to Chicago, you will get normal results. But if you then try to search LaGuardia Airport to Chicago, keeping the number of people, date, and class the same, Hipmunk is unable to perform the second search and the results from the prior search continue to be displayed.

I compensated for the problem by searching for all flights from or to a city or area – in my case, I searched for New York Area flights to Chicago. This displayed both the JFK Airport and LaGuardia Airport results. Still, I can think of instances when I want to search airports in the same city individually. I alerted the Hipmunk crew to the problem and received a prompt e-mail the same day from Danilo Campos, Hipmunk’s mobile developer, saying the bug has been fixed and the update would be available in a week (and probably by the time you are reading this review).

Despite its problems, Hipmunk’s easy-to-use interface and intuitive display make it a top-shelf booking app for business travelers. With a hotel booking function in the works for the app’s next incarnation, Hipmunk’s stock is set to rise.

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