I don’t do a massive amount of traveling, but I do travel once or twice a year, usually something that combines fun with visiting family. Booking your own flights online has made great strides since the early days of the Internet where consumers were basically using travel agents’ systems to build their own itineraries. While it’s much easier than it used to be, it can still take quite awhile to research all the available options when shopping for the best price and time for a flight. The iOS app Hipmunk takes the agony out of the process.
I have been looking for flights for an upcoming trip to visit my in-laws on their anniversary. Complicating the planning is that my son is away at college in a remote town two states away. I need lots of choices between different airports, etc., to get him down to Florida with us, and need to plan that as a one-way flight so that he can come back home with us since he’ll be on spring break, instead of sending him back to college right away.
Greeting me as I opened up the free Hipmunk app is a flying chipmunk, depicted in a cartoon. While it may seem because of the cartoon that it’s not a serious app, it definitely is. You don’t have to know the airport code, just the cities you’re flying from and to. Flying out of Chicago, it offered me a choice of two airports, as well as leaving it as a more general “Chicago area”, in order to get the best flights available from either airport.
After entertaining your desired destination, the next step is to choose your preferred dates of travel, which works the same as using most any other travel app or website. To book a one-way flight, you simply leave the return date blank. One option that is available using travel websites is to leave your dates flexible to allow for better price options. That isn’t available here, but it’s so easy to do multiple searches that it isn’t missed much.
After choosing Coach, Business, or First Class, as well as determining the number of people flying in your group, tapping “Search for Flights” brings up a screen that now animates the chipmunk. He utilizes “flying arms” and rocks his body while sitting down, much as a child would when pretending to fly. During this time, the Hipmunk app also displays helpful hints for using the app. None of it is needed, as the wait takes mere seconds, and those seconds fly by much more quickly.
The results screen presents the flight choices in a very visual manner making it easy to see quickly what your options are. Additionally, while other apps and websites organize their results either by schedule or price, Hipmunk organizes by those choices as well as flight duration and “Agony”. That’s right, agony. It takes all those factors into consideration and determines which flight choices are the least agonizing and puts those at the top. Looking at this list, they’re absolutely correct. Why not take that first flight? It’s the cheapest, at a desirable departure time of late afternoon/early evening, and is a direct flight.
Tapping on the desired flight gives you a pop-up of the flight details. Flight departure and arrival times are listed, as well as flight number and any layovers or amenities that exist on the flight. Once you find the departure you want, just tap on “Select This Leg”.
This brings you to a listing of flight return choices. Once again, they’re organized the same way. I happen to disagree with their “Agony” listing somewhat, as I would rather spend $50 more than leave early in the morning, but I can make that decision quickly by quickly browsing the list and choosing the next option.
Once you find the flight return option you want, you’re presented with three options to book the flight. You can either finish booking on a desktop computer by entering a certain phrase at the Hipmunk website, email the flight details to yourself or someone else, or book directly through the app.
After researching our own flight options, I started researching options for my son. It kept all my recent searches in the app, making it easy for me to flip back and forth and try out different combinations. Flying him out of Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan was going to cost $600 to $700, so I researched flights out of other cities in Michigan, knowing he could either ride along with someone else or take a bus. Certainly those options would be cheaper than the extra several hundred dollars of doing it all by flight.
I have literally spent hours searching flight options and sorting through my choices. With Hipmunk, I was done in ten to fifteen minutes. I know exactly what I want to do, as well as what I will probably end up doing with my son. This is probably why it was named one of the Best Travel Apps of 2011 by iTunes.
Hipmunk (iTunes link)