Gadling test drives new search engine

The new buzz on the internets this week is all about a new fare booking site called Hipmunk, a catchy, minimalist little site with a unique way of presenting fares.

Founded by the co-founders of Reddit (Steve Huffmann) and BookTour (Adam Goldstein), Hipmunk brings a unique, fresh way of looking at fare data unlike the old tabular model. Timing and duration are stressed, so a list of fares on each airline as a function of departure and length are presented in a series of parallel, colored bars.

In this way, passengers can easily see when they depart, how long they’ll be traveling, where they have layovers and when they arrive. Sorted against price, one can easily pick the lowest priced ticket against the that with the shortest travel time. Lower ranking fares under the best conditions per airline are folded under each line.

One can also sort fares by number of stops, duration or agony and then continue searching.

Once users have found a reasonable itinerary, they can click on their favorite fare and then carry over to Orbitz for finalized booking.

And only Orbitz, mind you. Why is this an issue? Well, we don’t know exactly where Hipmunk’s fare data comes from (their FAQ says that they’re not owned by an online travel agent), but if they’re only monetizing through Orbitz then they’re only limited to fares that Orbitz displays. And as we all know, Orbitz doesn’t necessarily always display the lowest possible fare. Coincidentally, however, the online travel agent does provide the industry highest return for each referred and purchased ticket, $3 versus $2 for Travelocity.

Running a quick search for an upcoming itinerary from ORD-CDG that we’ve got on the calendar, the proof is in the pudding. Hipmunk returns an (Orbitz available) $823 for roundtrip fare, while metacrawler Kayak (that actually queries returns $796.

This isn’t to say that Hipmunk’s model is broken — their interface is lovely and the amount of returned data is simply outstanding — they just need to expand their dataset for searching and monetization. Until this happens, we recommend using at least a few different engines in addition to your current searches on Hipmunk.