Meet In The Middle: Plan Group Travel With TripCommon

TripCommon group travel planning toolHave a friend in Austria while you are in Austin and want to take a trip together this summer? How do you figure out where to meet? Do you choose a destination in the middle, or one with regular cheap flights from both of your destinations? A new website just launched in beta, designed to make planning group travel an easier process. TripCommon is a flight search engine that computes the cheapest common destinations, giving you the option to filter by region (maybe you’ve both always wanted to explore South America), activity (make it a beach trip), and where you have local friends (if you link up to Facebook).

What makes TripCommon genius is that it doesn’t just find random points on the map that are midway between you and your friends (you can enter up to six cities for big group travel planning), it finds destinations that have the lowest average price. Maybe you are in grad school and have a fixed budget; you can find places with the lowest cost from your city. If you have frequent flier miles to burn and your friends are the ones looking for the cheapest seats, you can sort by lowest price from one of their home cities. You may discover destinations you never thought about (Canary Islands sound nice for summer!), and make the trip planning process a lot more equitable.

Start planning your group trip at www.tripcommon.com.

[Photo credit: Trip Common]

I Can Has Perfect Hotel? With New Personalized Hotel Search Engine, Yes

personalized hotel search engineImagine a personalized hotel search engine that knows what kind of traveler you are (savvy bargain hunter), what kind of vibe you go for (boutique and unique) and what kinds of activities you enjoy (culture and wine, please) and then uses those preferences to predict the perfect property for you.

That’s the aim of SimpleHoney, a new travel start-up from I Can Has Cheezburger founder Eric Nakagawa and GigaOm TV co-host Joyce Kim.

The premise is, dare we say, simple. Take a quick test to determine your “traveler type,” then type in where you’re going and when. The site will generate results and offers that fit your preferences, then direct you to the hotel website so you can book your room.

The SimpleHoney website, which was built on a beach in Oahu, is still in “beta,” which means that not all features are active yet. At the moment, the site only lists properties in San Francisco and Hawaii, and the “traveler type” profile quiz is basic at best. Sign-up is free for early adopters, though a $100 membership fee – for “access to amenities, perks, experiences, and rates” – will go into effect once the site is further along.

Five chilling facts about Cyber Monday Shopping

cyber mondayOkay, your goal should be NOT to conform to what you see below. The travel industry, riding something of a recovery this year, is set to come out with some solid sales on Cyber Monday, the biggest online shopping day of the year. So, as you click among hotel, airline and online travel agency sites, it will pay for you to be aware of the biggest risks you face.

Despite the many risks associated with online shopping – and the fact that they have been shoved in the public’s face since the early days of internet commercialization – people still roll the dice with their financial security. When you get excited about cheap tickets or a real bargain on the excursion of a lifetime, take a moment to make sure you aren’t getting scammed. Your savviest purchase may be the one you never make.

So, what are the risks? Let’s take a look at five scary facts from web security firm Webroot:1. Don’t trust page one: a high placement in Google search results shouldn’t be a sign of trust. According to Webroot, 59 percent of survey respondents trust the results they get in the first few pages, up from 39 percent last year. Unfortunately, this placement is “a target for malicious links.” Interestingly, the number of people using search engines is falling: “48 percent of online shoppers frequently if not always use search engines to find gifts online, compared to 52 percent in 2009,” Webroot reports.

Solution: Watch brand. If you recognize the company’s brand, you can be more comfortable with the purchase. Also, watch where the link sends you. For an extra layer of protection, enter the company’s address into the browser yourself instead of clicking the link in Google.

2. Risky wifi behavior: 18 percent of shoppers are likely to use public wifi for holiday shopping, Webroot reports, up from 12 percent in 2009. This can be risky, especially with 23 percent of respondents feeling comfortable using free public wifi.

Solution: Do your online shopping at home or at work. Stealing wifi from your neighbor so you can toss your credit card number onto the web is probably pretty stupid.

3. New site, new password: are you planning to jump on a deal from a company you haven’t used before? Well, this is the point of many of the Cyber Monday travel deals you’ll see: companies want to lure you away from your ol’ stand-by sites. Do take advantage of the hot promotions, but be smart. Using the same password everywhere is like hiding a house key under your doormat.

Solution: Use a new password every time you create an account with a travel website. Also, be one of the 72 percent of online shoppers who uses a “complex” password – i.e., a mix of letters, numbers and symbols.

4. Social should be personal: 26 percent of respondents to the Webroot survey indicated that someone else had used their social media or email accounts to send friends messages in their names. With travel companies increasingly turning to social media platforms to market their deals and bolster their brands, expect a lot more interaction this year … which brings hefty doses of risk with it.

Solution: Take a look at your sent messages from time to time, and look at your Twitter stream from the perspective of another user. Make sure you recognize everything you’re putting out into the world.

5. Look for safety: 52 percent of Webroot’s respondents don’t check to see if a site uses SSL, and 50 percent don’t look for the padlock in the lower right corner of the web browser. This is like not twisting the doorknob after you lock it.

Solution: pay attention to where you make purchases online. In addition to getting comfortable with the company website, you also want to be aware of the security in place. If something feels off, play it safe: don’t buy. No deal is worth the consequences of risky online purchasing behavior.

[Via Insurance Information Institute, photo by InfoMofo via Flickr]

Gadling test drives new search engine Hipmunk.com

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 aerlingus.com) 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.

Google acquires ITA: the search for bargain airline deals is about to get even easier

You’re an avid traveler, right? Sure, why else would you be reading this? Chances are that you’ve spent some quality time at either Kayak, Airfare Watchdog, Bing Travel or one of the many other niche ticketing sites in search of deals over the past few months. To that end, you’ve probably spent next to no time at Google searching for the same thing. But the obvious question is this: “why not?”

That’s a question that has obviously been bugging Google, which is a master of all things search in most every other category. For whatever reason, Google has allowed a number of other, typically smaller competing sites to grow their user base without any interference. But if Google’s so great at finding images via keyword, remedies to your strange medical conditions or more details on that vehicle you’ve been meaning to investigate, why can’t it do the same for travel?

Enter ITA Software, a Cambridge-based software firm that was born from an idea within the minds of a few bright computer scientists from MIT. Currently, the outfit is home to a highly advanced QPX software tool for organizing flight information, which is used by leading airlines and travel distributors worldwide including Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Bing, Continental Airlines, Hotwire, Kayak, Orbitz, Southwest Airlines, TripAdvisor, United Airlines, US Airways, Virgin Atlantic Airways and others. Moreover, it’s now offering a completely new airline passenger reservation system to improve the customer experience. And as of today, the company is an integral part of Google…
Google has ponied up $700 million in order to acquire ITA and turn the tables in the online ticket search business, but what’s most interesting here is that there’s a good chance the resulting search engine will not only do its own thing, but also bring in results from your existing favorites (Kayak, for instance). In a way, it’ll be the ultimate airline ticket search engine, pulling information from every nook and cranny available and organizing it in a way that the Average Joe or Jane can fully understand and take action on.

Once the acquisition is complete, Google aims to “make it easier for you to search for flights, compare flight options and prices and get you quickly to a site where you can buy your ticket.” It’s important to note that much like Kayak, Google won’t actually be selling you an airline ticket directly; it’ll simply be providing the access to buy one. Still, this all sounds like a huge win for consumers who are tired of crawling three different airline search engines to get a somewhat comprehensive look at their options, and we personally can’t wait for this marriage to officially bear fruit.

[Source: Google]