Why Hipmunk Is The World’s Best Travel Site

Written by on July 2, 2012 in Press & Events, Uncategorized

Forbes 6/29/12 -

George Orwell said journalism is “printing what someone else does not want printed: everything else is public relations.” Bully for you, Eric Arthur Blair, but you never had to book a flight from JFK to SFO for a family of four on a budget. Because I have run that gauntlet several times, I don’t feel bad writing a few paragraphs of unpaid PR for Hipmunk, a two-year-old travel-booking site. This post meets the Orwellian bar for journalism insofar as it’s not what Expedia, Orbitz, Priceline, ual.com and aa.com want printed: Hipmunk is the best travel site on the Web. Period.

Why? It’s smarter than all the others about presenting flight and hotel data. It doesn’t waste your time. It sacrifices ad revenue for a better user experience. It personalizes better than the others. It’s not trying to be anything other than a decision-making engine. “Our main philosophy,” says Hipmunk cofounder Steve Huffman, “is that we want you to spend as little time on our site as possible with the least amount of pain.” Completing the booking happens elsewhere,  including on Orbitz and the airline and hotel sites. Hipmunk makes a few bucks for generating each lead. “Like a lot of people, when I get home from work, I don’t want to think. We started from that notion,” says Huffman. “You only have so many decision-making units in your head per day.”

This is the big point. There was a time when it was really novel and boss for an e-commerce site to expose tons of data simply because it could. That was a sign of technical superiority and implied intelligence. But that novelty has worn off. The winners from here on out will the ones who make the Web functional and simple. Find me the answer, sort it for me, find me my community, entertain me. “You have to embrace the fact that people work that way,” says Huffman.

The embrace of that philosophy has earned Hipmunk a loyal and growing customer base. Little of its traffic (less than 5%, says Huffman) comes from search ads or organic results on Google. Compare that to Expedia, which got 11% of its traffic from Google sites as of October 2011, down from 15% a year earlier. With Google offering more of its own flight and hotel booking links atop search results, following its purchase last year of ITA Software, outfits such as Kayak and Expedia are finding that their unpaid listings are being pushed further down the page. Any online agent that depends on search engine marketing and not a repeat business is asking for trouble.

If you know Hipmunk and have used it to book your flights and hotels, that’s awesome for you. You probably don’t need to waste your time reading this post. But you’re in the minority. Despite some positive press, Hipmunk remains little-known outside the travel-nerd crowd. According to comScore, Expedia had 20 million U.S. visitors in May 2012. Hipmunk had 274,000. Hipmunk says it gets millions of search queries per month but it’s still miniscule compared to the bigger sites.

You may not understand Hipmunk the first time you use it but the next time you use someone else’s site you realize the torture they are putting you through. Here are Hipmunk’s search results for flights on July 1 from NYC to LAX. What gets the most prominent display is how a flight sits in your day. Price is to the left. Layovers are shown as gaps between flight legs. Filters are available through drop-downs along the top.

Go to full article here.

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