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Hipmunk Says Goodbye (hipmunk.com)
608 points by ienjoythebeach on Jan 14, 2020 | hide | past | favorite | 335 comments

There's a number of comments about how hipmunk declined or didn't have good prices. It reminded me of a recent Matthew Stoller piece ( https://mattstoller.substack.com/p/the-wave-of-terror-in-ame... ) :

"Similarly, I spoke on a panel a few months ago in Congress on airlines, and Adam Goldstein, the former CEO of flight travel booking site Hipmunk, talked as well. I used to love Hipmunk, but it’s terrible now and I don’t use it. Goldstein explained why. He noted that after the wave of consolidation among airlines during the Obama years, airlines stopped allowing his site to have access to pricing data unless they hid certain routes to consumers. This move to avoid competition destroyed the business and harmed consumers. (It’s also obviously illegal, and the Department of Transportation has antitrust authority it doesn’t use to stop it.) Why did Goldstein speak publicly? Hipmunk sold itself off and he’s no longer there."

> "It’s also obviously illegal"

I'm not sure it's as obvious as the author assumes. In the shopping sector, there's a concept of 'minimum advertised price' that every online store respects, which is set by manufacturers under the same carrot-stick arrangement (i.e. it's the price the manufacturer believes would drive the value of the entire market sector down if it were common, shopping aggregators aren't allowed to show products below that price, and if they do the manufacturer cuts the high-density pre-digested feed of feature descriptions for the product).

It's clearly anti-market practice (in the sense that it adds information asymmetry between some part of the market and consumers in an attempt to keep prices higher), but it's being done by hundreds to thousands of manufacturers and it's real unclear on what criteria it'd be considered illegal.

Many information asymmetries (even artificial ones) are not illegal, and indeed, even the moral argument for changing the law may not be as cut-and-dry as one assumes at first glance (for example, if sale below M.A.P. drops the bottom out of a market and kills an industry, the product can disappear from common production and the consumer doesn't benefit in the long run).

> if sale below M.A.P. drops the bottom out of a market and kills an industry, the product can disappear from common production and the consumer doesn't benefit in the long run

Is there an example of this happening anywhere in recent history? I ask because it seems absurd to me that there is an industry so fragile that retailers taking a bit less profit would lead to sudden, total collapse. (And doubly absurd this might apply to airlines.)

This exact scenario happened in Hawaii, a small regional market for local (inter-island) flights. There were 2 airlines (Hawaiian and Aloha) competing on price and service, but it was essentially a duopoly with moderate and almost identical prices. Then both started expanding their routes to the mainland US, got overextended when the next downturn hit and declared bankruptcy one after the other (they kept flying at the same prices while restructuring). One potential acquirer was Mesa Air, but they only looked at the books and started a 3rd competing airline (called Go) with $5 fares. So they started a price war, and Aloha never recovered and shut down (as they probably intended), but Go had only small jets and somehow Hawaiian kept them away from the good gates, so nobody liked them at the regular price. Now only Hawaiian is left, but at 50-100% more of the old equilibrium price. An archipelago like Hawaii needs air connections, but with too many players or too much price war, it's not sustainable.

I do not see how this is an example of what GP was speculating about. Flights between Hawaiian islands still exist, they just cost more now. What GP seemed to be gesturing at is price competition killing an entire market segment, and nobody moving in afterwards to occupy it again.

You say it isn't sustainable, but you also say Hawaiian is still going. Which is it?

The claim was "kills an industry", but from what you say, the industry's still going. And you say the critical factor was "kept them away from the good gates", which is exactly the kind of thing that is solved with careful regulation, not deregulation.

I think the parent comment is saying that the situation of having a price war between too many players isn't sustainable. And it seems not to have been here, since all but one of those players either died or exited the market as a result, leaving the remaining one with monopoly pricing power.

Sure, wars aren't supposed to be sustainable. That's why people start them.

I agree a monopoly over a small market niche sometimes happens even in antitrust contexts. That can happen with or without price wars. I also agree monopoly pricing power is bad. (Although not nearly as bad in a niche, because other well-funded competitors get an incentive to step in the more prices get out of line.) But none of this is proof of the death of an industry.

The industry of mobile apps and games has seen rates go unsustainably low, often to 99c or free, causing them to make up the difference with in-app purchases, ad networks, tracking, and lots and lots of psychological tricks.

Nobody can dare simply sell a game on the iOS or Google Play store for $5 or $10 anymore, because there's far more "free" ones out there. This has turned lots of people off of these storefronts. The race to the bottom is real.

> Nobody can dare simply sell a game on the iOS or Google Play store for $5 or $10 anymore

Except that's patently false. All you have to do is look briefly on the iOS App Store and you'll find plenty of games for $5+. Sure, there are a lot more that are "free (with in-app purchases)", but the idea that no one can make money in the space is just totally absurd.

Furthermore, even if what you said was true, it would not be a genuine example of what the previous poster was describing, because people are still making money off those freemium games. What the other poster was describing was prices going through the floor, no one being able to make money in that space, and the entire industry drying up and blowing away.

> All you have to do is look briefly on the iOS App Store and you'll find plenty of games for $5+.

Yeah. They tend to have low sales numbers. I worked on one. Just because they exist, doesn't mean they make return on investment. When we switched to a free-to-play model for our next game, we made a lot more money in ads and IAPs.

> because people are still making money off those freemium games

Airlines took up of the practice of nickle-and-diming the customer to get the initial sticker shock down, since that's basically all anybody ever competed on. If that price gets any lower, the amount of extra addons and fees will have to go way up to compensate, or service will get cut.

Just because some people are making money, doesn't mean it's a healthy market. I think most experts would agree that the mobile game market is incredibly unhealthy.

I was curious — right now in the US store, 1/25 most popular (This War of Mine) is not freemium. 1/25 “Essential Picks” (Minecraft) is not freemium.

I think your second point depends on how you divide things: clearly there is money in gaming but it does seem like it’s hard to make a game which doesn’t rely on IAP and slot-machine design — so much so that Apple launched an entire service to change the market dynamics.

I just bought Stardew Valley for $5, encouraged by my expiring Google Rewards credits :D

The claim was "kills an industry". SensorTower puts 2019 mobile games revenue at over $60 billion. [1] That doesn't sound very dead to me.

[1] https://sensortower.com/blog/app-revenue-and-downloads-2019

That's just a generic race to the bottom, isn't it? What does it have to do with minimum advertised prices?

I wonder how much these in-app-purchase tactics would be mitigated by Apple/Google listing the median per-person spend for each app: e.e “Free (with average $5.00 in-app fees)”

The median will likely be 0 for almost all apps; it would be outrageously, extraordnary successful for a freemium app to convert 50% of its users to paying customers.

The mean is also uninformative - for many games the majority of revenue is provided by a small number of 'whales', and their behavior is not representative for a normal user.

Perhaps a histogram would give an accurate impression, but I'm unsure whether app devs and Apple/Google would want to make that info public.

The latest numbers I've heard is that if you get 10% of your userbase to pay at least once, you're doing incredibly healthily. Whales tend to be a handful-per-100,000 ratio, but they spend like nothing else. Loot boxes are ridiculously effective because whales will roll for them until they get the rare prize, spending thousands of dollars in the process.

Alternatively, mobile game developers can't be assed make a game that's worth more than a dollar. Mobile devs aren't victims; their users are victims and they are the victimizers.

I've worked extensively with various luxury brands that do this (to be honest almost all of them do). The reason is almost always brand integrity, they don't want consumers to think of their brand as being cheap so they only ever discount to a point. Add to that that some brands will allow unsold stock to be returned - obviously this means the seller will only reduce the price to a certain point before it doesn't make financial sense. And finally in some cases it makes more sense from a tax perspective to write off the unsold stock as a complete loss than sell it at a low amount.

Sure. That's because they're not mainly selling a product, they're selling exclusivity. But if every single "luxury" handbag company goes out of business because map violations get people to stop caring about "luxury" handbags, that doesn't mean that handbags getting manufactured.

I believe something like this happens in pharmaceuticals where creating or recertifying manufacturing capability is incredibly expensive.

If a drug price drops below the point where there is insufficient margin to create or sustain manufacturing capability, it stops getting made. This is one source of drug shortages and, to my understanding, why the world health org created a list if essential medicines. This would be a list that countries could use to develop availability controls.

Huh? Airlines have a long history of self destruction through price wars. When I was in college, I would fly southwest to catch baseball games in Baltimore, for less than $100.

Sure. That's how competition works. But they claim is "kills an industry". As far as I know, people still fly to Baltimore despite a history of sometimes-low prices.

Airlines as an industry have killed themselves a few times. They exist due to benevolent acts of the US government.

Retailers will never take less profit in the long run. Especially in industries where ROIC is extremely important. The retailer will always squeeze the manufacturer and the manufacturer, depending on the volume of the account, will typically fold to keep the (extremely expensive) line running. This plays out over long time horizons (a few years) but eventually price erosion will happen and capacity will go offline.

Nobody is disputing that when prices decrease, capacity might also decrease. But the claim was that capacity drops to zero, which I still think is absurd.

Well, I think the claim that worldwide capacity will drop to zero is absurd. But after enough price erosion, domestic capacity will dwindle significantly and these companies' goal is to remain in business.

I love low airfare as much as anybody but the claim that price transparency leads to price erosion isn't ridiculous. I honestly think that the trend towards lower prices has led to the reduction in quality of the flying experience as the airlines try to accommodate both low prices expected by consumers and high margins expected by Wall Street.

But your point is fair. The capacity rarely disappears completely because of price transparency. Only innovation and obsolescence will completely take that capacity offline.

Of course not, because it's absolutely ridiculous. The theory doesn't pass the basic smell test, it utterly defies common sense. I don't know if this user is a shill for some retailer or just extremely gullible, but this kind of absurd misinformation shouldn't be welcome on this website.

Thanks for this opinion, was wondering how the GP was able to justify such a corporate-philic line of thinking

> and if they do the manufacturer cuts the high-density pre-digested feed of feature descriptions for the product

Are you sure that's the case? Most descriptions of MAP I've seen incorporate a "shared" advertising budget that the manufacturer will stop paying if you don't abide by the MAP. This is a subtle but significant difference in actual implementation, further, while this may be acceptable under current federal law or at least the current interpretation they aren't the sole holders of anti-monopoly jurisdiction.

> (for example, if sale below M.A.P. drops the bottom out of a market and kills an industry

That's an incredibly long tail argument. How likely do you think is to actually happen? Is there any evidence this would occur? Is this endemic to all industry, or just to those who rely on these pricing agreements to hold market position?

As part of our agreement to be an authorized dealer of a product, we aren't allowed to sell it below the MAP which they set. If we do, they will cancel our agreement and we lose our discount. (Not sure if that is helpful, but wanted to give you a real world example.)

Interestingly I have seen a source of arbitrage in the music/pro audio gear space. If I (in US) go to Thomann music (Germany) many non US origin goods are between 50-80% of the US MAP. Part of this seems to be exchange rate related but it also looks like a company like Thomann has more leverage on price. Even paying the flat 30 Euro shipping and 5-10 dollar foreign currency fee I save about 20-40%. That part infuriates me to the point Im tempted to start an import business. I’m not going to, but MAP is just price fixing with a nicer name.

M.A.P. is a US construction, it does not exist in Europe (or elsewhere).

> It's clearly anti-market practice (in the sense that it adds information asymmetry between some part of the market and consumers in an attempt to keep prices higher), but it's being done by hundreds to thousands of manufacturers and it's real unclear on what criteria it'd be considered illegal.

If sellers are colluding to keep prices high.. isn't this just a cartel?

They aren't colluding to keep prices high; they're each individually deciding what their MAP should be, but the minimum MAP in the system may be higher than the minimum some consumer is willing to sell for, so that sale offer won't show up on an online shopping center.

I tried Hipmunk once because I loved the site's personality, but it wasn't able to find any flights on Delta to Atlanta (Delta's primary hub). As much as I liked the site, the inability to find such a basic route made me lose confidence in it from the start :(

I tried delta.com but it wasn't able to find some international flights on their own alliance airlines. I called them about this and they confirmed this is done deliberately when booking using points. This made me lose confidence in delta.com and I went back to using Skyscanner.

(Yes it's basically a scam that their "partner" airline flights are hidden when buying with points.)

Are you otherwise able to purchase those legs with points?

If your points are with Air France (another airline in the same "partnership") I believe you can. And if your points are with the exact same carrier as the flights you also can. But apparently points on one "partner" are not fungible with others, and you can't use Delta miles to book award flights on other carriers' websites.

This was when I found out that frequent flyer experts choose their "home" airline very carefully. To Delta's credit their points never expire...but if they block the flights I want what good are the points?

Their website offered me an alternative: fly with a different partner airline into the destination country then fly domestic on the airline that flies to the actual destination. That was bookable using (a lot of) points, but would make the journey twice as long.

I'm not sure that's true. I worked for a flight meta search for years and that was never mentioned by anyone (we were very candid internally).

It is however true that consolidation of airlines gave them more bargaining power. For already established companies with access to a lot of customers (Kayak, Skyscanner, Google Flights etc) that came with pros and cons. But for smaller players like Hipmunk I can easily see how that would shift the balance of power towards the airlines, lowering margins and access to data.

I loved the design of Hipmunk and really wanted it to work. Tried it for a direct flight from Detroit to SF. I think it showed only a single flight. I then went to Delta's site and found a half dozen.

After a couple more tries on different trips I decided that whatever Hipmunk's algorithm was optimizing for just didn't work for me.

Can anyone explain the issue of hiding fares in more detail? Which fares? Where? When? Why?

I think to offer a differentiated product in this space, you have to be hostile towards the airlines. I know that Skiplagged will show me hidden city tickets that I won't find elsewhere. I know that Scott's Cheap Flights will alert me to fares so cheap that they seem like pricing mistakes. All of the aggregators that play ball with the airlines just offer the exact same results.

> after the wave of consolidation among airlines during the Obama years,

Ah the "too big to fail" years where everything consolidated and only got bigger including the big evil banks which took the brunt of the public's fury following the 2008 crisis (and occupy).

It's funny how so much of the regulations put in place had the opposite effect and made running small firms (ie, with more liability than the big ones) became almost impossible. Following the crisis there are now 5 mega banks who control everything and tons of the small banks shutdown and found it impossible to operate in the market with the new conditions,

It's sad that most people's consumer-interfacing perception of markets is often through these megacorps which exist in heavily regulated systems (which everyone then blames their poor experiences on markets), which are often structures which were the result of reactions to bad behaviours of a few big bad guys, which then resulted in policy only designed for the big bad firms. Meanwhile the other 90% of the marketplace, who did nothing wrong and who aren't the same size, were left dealing with the new overhead.

Automotive, airlines, finance, energy, bio/pharma, etc are all getting consolidating into smaller and smaller groups of megafirms or owned by opaque equity groups.

I don't know what the solution is but in so much of dystopian fiction the world is run by a few giant companies who control everything. That sort of system naturally creates a greater disconnect between the needs of the average consumer using the service and the whims and needs of the company (for ex: boycotts become meaningless/ineffective and consumer power lessens).

Meanwhile data is showing the number of new businesses being created are lessening and people are wondering why inequality keeps increasing, when forming small/medium sized companies used to be the main way to become upwardly mobile.

Soon the only option for upwards mobility is working your way up megacorps or making small companies who just get sold off to a bigger firm within the first 10yrs of operations.

I don't mean for this to be a diatribe against regulations but this sort of thing concerns me and regulation is only one of many forces pushing the economy towards this structure. I still think entrepreneurship is forever underrated in inequality discussions but its such a complex problem to confront, I just hope that the future really isn't just endless consolidation and an endless series of political barriers put in place preventing new shops from improving the mistakes of the past (which was a reliable source of progress for a long time).

I don't understand you using consolidation and abuse of power as a reason to dislike regulation. There are plenty of non-regulatory incentives for consolidation. Why not simply regulate consolidation? Target large holding companies and megacorps with aggressive taxation policies on revenue or headcount or market cap or similar? And then enforce the regulation with teeth?

There are always going to be creative people coming up with new ways to be bad actors, so regulation has to be an evolving constant. But responding with an aversion to regulation is just giving the game to the bad actors.

I have always used this argument and agree with it. When it becomes obvious that a corporation is large and too powerful bust it up. Don't regulate the industry so much that you price control things (essentially) and add so many regulations that an army of lawyers is necessary to navigate. Industries almost always tend toward monopolies/oligopolies as people tend to try and concentrate power. Our Constitution (as long as we respect it) demands a split of power but the lassez-faire markets do not.

I have similar views regarding nation state sizes. secessions are extremely rare and all we're left with is legacy states as guiding examples. Apparently federalism and confederation within larger entities has long ago lost it's allure, especially in the US.

I'm convinced the "political divide" that the US has long featured, well before the internet and the 2016 election, was largely to due to its size and expansive heterogeneousness.

Meanwhile the liberals look with envy at the governments of smaller states like Scandinavia, Australia, Canada, and others, with by compartision - a far smaller representative governments and very often less direct gov economic intervention (they prefer to gloss over that part) parthttps://www.wikiwand.com/en/Index_of_Economic_Freedom.

The US used to value its state-driven system with priority, the judiciary branch still seems to which I why I adore them - but the same can't be found in confress and senare, and I think it's long due for them to remembrance state sovereignty.

Each state should be as originally designed - individual experimental grounds for which other states to learn. If California or Oregon wants to be a super-liberal mecca - let them be - with aggressive climate policy and what not. Then they provide the world with a functioning model which to copy assuming it works well for them. Same with Texas or New Hampshire...if they really want to adopt a more

I loathe this trend towards the federal government doing and enforcing everything. It defeats a fundamental founding principles of the founding fathers - liberty via strong state sovereignty.

Oh hell no. More lawyers to find more loopholes. How about addressing the root cause: the lack of competition? The way to do this is lower the barrier to entry, which is made of 100% over-regulation.

You can involve all the antitrust you want, as long as you don't lower the barrier to entry you're just lying to yourself and adding more useless middlemen.

The barrier to entry is definitely not "100% over-regulation". Starting an airline would be extremely difficult even if it were entirely unregulated. You need airplanes, pilots, and a variety of flight and ground crew. You need landing slots at busy airports. And then you need a customer base big enough to fill up your flights.

Even if all of that were easy, you still want anti-trust regulation, because airlines are a cutthroat business. If you start up NerdBird Inc, specializing in SF-Austin flights, it is absolutely in the interests of United and American to undercut you on that route for as long as it takes to drive you out of business. Which will probably not be very long, as airlines are expensive to run and margins are thin.

Look at what happened to Virgin America? It was a consumer-focused airline that was doing very well financially, and it was forcibly acquired because of regulations that US airlines must be US owned.

Nope. That was a problem early on for Virgin America. But Branson was quite explicit: consolidation was the problem: https://www.virgin.com/richard-branson/virgin-america

Yeah, read the article. He was against the merger - regulation drove the forced consolidation, which he did not want. He posted about it a ton when it happened.

If you remove regulations, businesses will raise barriers to entry. Businesses don't like to compete. Competition is a zero-sum game that they might lose. Instead, they prefer to form cartels and turn it into a non-zero sum game where they all win (and consumers all lose).

World history clearly shows that lack of regulation inexorably leads to trusts, cartels, price fixing, price dumping, and all sorts of other anti-competitive agreements. It's trivially easy for a monopoly or cartel to raise their own barriers to entry to maintain their hegemony.

In fact, there's a good argument that the governmental barriers to entry you are lamenting were in fact driven by entrenched businesses as an example of regulatory capture and not a flaw in regulation itself.

If you let businesses get so big that not only are they not regulated, but they have taken over control of regulation itself, you're in a real pickle.

But what is the minimum size for a business to "get so big they have taken over control of regulation"? I have seen very small companies (like, think size of one) deftly manipulate state- and federal- level regulations to their advantage.

> But what is the minimum size for a business to "get so big they have taken over control of regulation"?

This is sort of like asking, "What is the minimum weight you can put on a seesaw before it tips?" The answer depends entirely what's on the other side.

One way to look at free markets is that they provide economic stability in the same way that tensegrity [0] structures provide physical stability. They work not because any element provides stability, but because — when very carefully composed together! — the elements exert opposing forces which all balance out leading to a stable system.

The "brilliant idea" of markets is taking advantages of forces that already exist — human selfishness and the desire to profit — and harness that to produce a system with some level of efficiency. The downside is that there's no real way to evaluate market participants in isolation.

[0]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tensegrity

At least on its face, I don't buy that high barriers to entry in every market is "made of 100% over-regulation." Depending on the market in question, there may be extremely high capital costs that have little to do with regulation. What you're trying to do may be highly dependent on partners who be motivated not to give you the best products/services available at reasonable prices. Competition may be entrenched simply by virtue of having been in business much longer than their new competitors, taking advantage of their scale in ways that startups can't -- including locking up potential customers through contracts.

I don't have experience in Hipmunk's field, but I do have experience, in another life, with CLECs, "competitive local exchange carriers." CLECs bloomed thanks to deregulation of their industry in the early 1990s, which is great -- but they were virtually all gone within a decade, not due to re-regulation but to the simple fact that achieving scale and profitability was monumentally expensive and difficult. The company I was at, Intermedia Communications, was bringing in close to a billion dollars of revenue annually by the time they threw in the towel and agreed to be purchased... and they still hadn't come close to turning a profit. But by that point the writing was already on the wall, and the industry was collapsing from hundreds of players to dozens. (The rise of wireless, of course, was the final death blow, but the industry was basically undead by then.)

I don't take Hipmunk's demise as a sign of "too much regulation" at all; airlines went through a similar contraction to CLECs, and what killed Hipmunk -- airlines choking off their pricing data -- will act to prevent any new competitors. That's not a function of too much regulation -- it's a function of not regulating the right things. What if airline pricing data was subject to FRAND ("fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory") licensing?

Regulation is absolutely used too often to protect incumbents, but you simply can't blame lack of competition in every industry on too much regulation. Arguably, when implemented correctly, regulation can increase competition, not harm it.

Do you expect to ever end the arms race of finding loopholes vs closing them? What would this look like?

I don't believe it's possible. You can't fight bad actors by hoping they'll just somehow lose. The unregulated "more competition" market quickly turns into a "less competition" market as the most ruthless parties establish dominance through whatever means necessary. Your barriers to entry, in the extreme case, become things like physical intimidation.

Maybe but in this case, a lower barrier to entry wouldn't have helped but regulation would have.

How would you lower the barrier to entry into something like Facebook or Amazon? Or Google trips for that matter? Or in this example, Hipmunk?

Require federation. And prohibit dropping interoperability.

Remember that golden era when XMPP was federated across Facebook, Google Talk, AOL, etc. It wasn't perfect but did give users more options.

> I don't mean for this to be a diatribe against regulations

I don't know how to tell you this, but it definitely is a diatribe against regulations.

Right, because the biggest financial crisis since the Second World War has nothing to do with the consolidation. It must have been the regulations.

Despite the fact that the new regulations were a fraction of what was done in several decades before that time, and the fact that states that are more regulated tend to show no more monopolisation than states that are less regulated (if anything the opposite is true).

>It's funny how so much of the regulations put in place had the opposite effect and made running small firms (ie, with more liability than the big ones) became almost impossible.

What did you expect? Obama was a policy wonk, preferring to craft intricate rulesets and mandates to coddle entrenched players rather than prosecute fraud directly or engage in structural reform. He tours the country now on the corporate talk circuit shouting down reasonable populist policy.

We have a choice to change that now, in the Democratic primary.

> owned by opaque equity groups.

or owned by index funds, who really don't care much how management operates.

That's not true, Fink of BlackRock is always sending letters about something. Here's the most recent example:


Letters are meaningless. BlackRock touts sustainability when just last month they decided to buy up a huge sum of Aramco

I worked for Hipmunk for a little over two years before they were purchased and have some fond memories of my time there. There have been a lot of articles on HN lately suggesting that it is better to work for a large company over a startup. Based on my time there, I would strongly disagree. I came in as a junior engineer (feral would be an appropriate term) and during my time, touched basically every part of the web application - backend and frontend. I made a lot of mistakes and through it all, I left significantly more experienced than I was when I started. I don't think there was a better place I could have spent my time at that stage of my career. My advice would be, do work for a startup. Even better, try to work for a startup like Hipmunk with an experienced senior engineering team who have worked on some hard problems - like how to scale Reddit in the era before AWS. You'll learn a lot.

But a lot of larger companies have great programs for junior developers that ensure they learn a lot.

In my experience and stories I've heard it seems that you can have an amazing time as a junior developer at a startup. If it's a good one. It it isn't, you'll be absolutely miserable and have no support. Similarly, you can be at a large company with a fantastic program for junior developers and learn a lot. And you can also work at an awful large company where you'll learn nothing. "Startup vs large company" feels like a false choice in many ways.

My experience with (2) larger companies, and confirmed from conversations with friends, is that while you tend to have more support, you are often placed on individual siloed teams where you stay for years. I think the key benefit of smaller companies is that you can work across so many different aspects of the application. Process also tends to be less burdensome so you are able to devote more of your time to the text editor writing business logic.

Still, my experience and my circle is limited so I suspect some might have had the opposite experience.

Someone told me they spend 2 years in a team responsible for some of the undo menu at a giant software company. Incredible siloing.

To be fair, adding apparently simple undo functionality to a complex transactional system can be fiendishly difficult.

I was interviewing at a megacorp a long while back, my interviewer was solely responsible for the pie charts in some old application. He mentioned in the interview that it was totally feasible to run your own startup on the side.

An acquaintance of mine worked at Google for one entire year on the functionality of one single button in GMail (I don't recall what it was specifically). He was very disappointed, left and launched a startup.

My first job out of school was writing an OS from scratch for a new device. This was at a FAANG. Couldn't be happier. It depends on the opportunity.

That sounds like quite literally hell on earth. Thanks but no thanks (never mind the legal pandoras box of running your startup at your day job.)

Engineering learnings at big cos vs startups are wildly different. If your goal is to learn what it takes to start your own company, you are much better off working at even a mid-sized startup, than a big tech co. There are a number of reasons for this, but a particularly consequential one is that you will learn to build/manage/deploy applications from 0, and if things go well, through a variety of scales thereafter. At a mid-size startup you'll have less of the "from 0" bit, but you are much more likely to learn to deal with the scaling issues that manifest as the software that was built in the early days starts degrade with growing load. You will also likely be using similar open source tools in both the early & middle startup stages.

Building features in a large, existing codebase, in the robust tooling context of a big company, is nothing like building services from the ground up.

Larger companies have great programs, but also have large company problems which in many ways often aren't IT problems.

What does that have to do with startups? My first job out of college was a very similar experience to yours yet the company was fairly large. (~2,000 employees) By the time I left I was the lead developer of one of the many projects I worked on during those years.

I think a larger company is probably more likely to have an established mentorship program in place for he engineers rather than a startup.

I also needed to take three months of disability and I received 100% of my pay during those three months (and even kept accruing PTO) because my established company provided me with short term (and long term) disability insurance.

> I came in as a junior engineer (feral would be an appropriate term)

How did this work? From what I've seen, early stage startups always want senior only.

You can want seniors all you like but if your budget can't handle it you get juniors. This is how you end up with something that works bit doesn't scale well. By the time you need to scale you should be able to afford seniors.

I think the part about the budget was accurate but it might have also just been difficult to attract top talent without the name recognition.

I have my opinions which I will not share for why Hipmunk stagnated but I will say, it had nothing to do with scaling or technical obstacles.

Start-ups hire "juniors" but they don't advertise the position as junior, you can identify these roles by virtue of them paying way under "market-rate". The downside is most companies (it seems Hipmunk was an exception) have little to no training for these "juniors" and you have to have a strong stomach for BS as you have to make do entirely by yourself. YMMV.

I've been in a junior start-up role twice very early in my career. It worked out for me, but I wouldn't really advise it in an era of Google/MS hiring massive amounts of fresh grads with high comp.

This is a shame, and says more about the consolidation of the tech industry than Hipmunk's product.

One of Hipmunk's founders spoke to a course that I was in about their experience as a founder and how they were running their business. A few weeks later, a well known founder of another travel search company visited the class and said outright that if Hipmunk did have any success, that they would copy those features and that Hipmunk couldn't threaten their position. That is exactly what happened.

To boot, Hipmunk was acquired and shuttered by another travel conglomerate.

> says more about the consolidation of the tech industry than Hipmunk's product

I kinda disagree. Hipmunk did not have access to the data that gave users a complete pictures on all travel routes. Even if they had a nice UI/ux, the underlying data was incomplete.

People naturally gravitated to sites where they found a route they wanted for the price they wanted.

That's true but it's also true that getting access to flight data is far easier the larger you get. Therefore the flights metasearch industry (and travel metasearch in general) will tend to consolidate to an extent.

An often echoed sentiment around here is 'is your startup idea a product, or a feature?' If you startup is a feature, it's just going to be copied.

The only way to prevent this is with patents.

> The only way to prevent this is with patents.

There are other ways. Network effects. Economies of scale. Branding. Arguably regulatory capture.

Internet search was regarded as a feature right up until about 2000.

Twitter is a feature.

Are networking effects a product or a feature?

Category error, they're an effect. Is hunger a kind of food?

That strategy only works so far. Keep adding and things get bloated. Servicing a narrow use-case can cause them problems with coping.

Facebook, WeChat and Office are counterpoints.

They did? Who copied their features (particularly the awesome visualization)?

Hipmunk was simply the best. Very clean interface, no frills, quite thorough (except southwest), best presentation, easy to sort/evaluate ... A cute chipmunk.

Looking at the three alternatives from all the other comments (google, matrix and skyscanner), they seem 5 or so years behind the times.

Southwest doesn't give out its pricing information at all. Which is why hipmunk didn't have it.

It does to certain business travel platforms (search for "swabiz"), and I believe they're expanding that exposure through their integration with Amadeus. Whether they plan it make it available on consumer sites eventually, I don't know.

I'm going to make the assumption that if Hipmunk and other non-paying aggregators were to scrape their site for the pricing data, they'd get hit with a lawsuit, right?

It does to Concur.

Not very consumer friendly.

At the time when southwest cut them off, the online travel sites were expecting $5 to $10 in compensation. Offering the lowest price required trimming that cost.

News story from 2002: https://www.cnet.com/news/southwest-soars-without-travel-sit...

To trim the cost of a referral program, you shut down the referral program. Or cut the payout.

That's not a reason to stop supplying data entirely.

There are a lot of sites that I would love if they had nice free APIs. People generally don't create those without a financial benefit.

The financial benefit is getting flight bookings.

This is an API where the airline effectively charged a negative cost for use. If they decided it was too negative, why not try adjusting the price?

It works out very well for them.


In Southwest’s defense, you’re showing their price next to the likes of Spirit and Frontier, whose base prices do not include checked bags.

which just makes me hate southwest even more.

Momondo is my shit. Found lots of cheap tickets on it over the years.

They lost delta a few years ago as well.

It doesn't seem to be mentioned in this thread yet that the founders tried to buy it back:


"SAP Concur refused the offer. It intends to shutter both the Hipmunk consumer brand and the Concur Hipmunk business travel incarnation on January 23."

Do Sap Concur stand to gain by closing Hipmunk down? Why would they not take money for something they were going to destroy anyway?

It's probably now integrated with their systems, and to disentangle would require engineering. You can argue that so long as the $$$ of the sale pays for it that SAP should sell it, but I would argue that if those engineers could be working on something else that is of higher value that you shouldn't try to sell it, especially if the cost of disentangling isn't well known.

The article mentions that it'd be embarrassing for SAP if they managed to make Hipmunk more successful than they could.

One of my first technical interviews after teaching myself to code was with Hipmunk. They were incredibly nice and patient with me despite me being a clueless bundle of nerves, and I learned a lot from their very practical take home challenge, although by the time I had finished it they already hired someone. Thanks to them though I came to love working with Redis and Tornado (Python async framework). It's a fond memory and I'm disappointed to hear about this.

I hope that the team are able to quickly find other roles and don't find their lives too disrupted by this.

Most of the team has already moved back to reddit. :)

As a random person who's been on reddit for over a decade now, it's really cool to see how close-knit the reddit team is. Partially I'm jealous, since I've never found anything even close to that.

I think being in the trenchs on small teams does that to you :) .

I'll really miss it, the visual way of seeing how a flight is split up and how long the layovers are was better than all the other aggregators. Also with their sorting by "agony" feature was great and it was always easy to see the type of the airplane.

I don't know any other aggregator who does it this well.

Google maps automatically factors in "agony" when you ask for transit directions (by design), and the "schedule explorer" gives you a visual layout of all the travel times and transfers you can use. It's very similar to the way Hipmunk displays flight information, so I never understood why Google Flights didn't adopt the schedule explorer from Google Maps...

Anecdotally, it seemed like Hipmunk had nothing to motivate users to actually book through them. It was a great site to find what specific flight to take. The sorting by "agony" was great and I have never seen any other site have an interface as seamless as the sliders you could use to narrow down flights to specific windows of time. But once I had my preferred flight number, I booked somewhere else to get that mile bonus or whatever other incentive existed elsewhere.

This is sad - Hipmunk greatly facilitated my digital nomad lifestyle at some point as I could chain multiple flights in multiple months together to make "a travel around the world" schedule, i.e. 1 month intervals Boston->Miami->Zurich->Kyoto->Sydney->Auckland->Honolulu->Vancouver->San Francisco, all without any return flights and spaced as I liked.

Is there any other service allowing the same?

Google Flights supports "multi-city" travel plans that does exactly this!

If there's one thing we do a reasonable job on it's multicity. Link in bio.


This is a long time coming: for more context, Hipmunk was acquired by Concur back in 2016 for $58MM [1] as the flights meta-search business was just getting tougher and tougher

As someone who's dabbled in flights bookings (BookWithMatrix) and now am working on a travel startup (Wanderlog, https://wanderlog.com, a Google Docs/Trips for travel planning), flights are just not that profitable. In North America, you'd be lucky to get 1-2% commissions. In the rest of the world, it's a bit better, but Hipmunk was definitely North America-first.

Concur never was a consumer company and Hipmunk never was going to make a ton for them, so it was just a matter of time. RIP -- a lot of their best features (not just showing the cheapest flights, but the "Best" based on agony) have made it into all major meta-search tools, so it's not for nothing!

(Also, I personally use a combination of ITA Matrix, Google Flights, and Skyscanner now. ITA Matrix still has time bars, if you loved that UI; Google Flights is just so fast, and Skyscanner searches low-cost carriers that Google Flights sometimes misses)

[1] https://www.crunchbase.com/organization/hipmunk

Wanderlog looks very cool, but you might want to take a look at how you’re pulling your header images. Planning a trip to Vietnam and got welcomed a B/W header image of the Vietnam War :/

Sorry about that! We just fixed it -- if you create it again, hopefully you get a non-Vietnam War picture

Wow. Fixed within 12 minutes from notification in an online forum to production. I am impressed.

SSH'ed info the production server, pico index.php, saved file, done.

Production-Driven Development is the new cool.

Pico? Not nano? Hah you're old :)

I do have a question:

How’s PHP holding up in 2020? Are you using a big framework? Are you using it because it’s what you’ve always known or did you choose it deliberately over other options?

I’m genuinely curious. Not meant to be negative. I’ve always wondered how well PHP scaled for others.

We aren't using PHP for Wanderlog (which is built with Node.js), but did use it for many of our projects before 2015.

There really was (is?) no faster environment to get started with a single dynamic page that can submit a form and display data from a database. I don't have experience with the more recent frameworks, but I'm sure they're very mature now.

What alternatives exist to Hipmunk's display of flights? I've never seen a site with a similar display of flights by time, including display of the layovers, and easy ways to drag the earliest and latest start times to eliminate flights that aren't an option.

> ITA Matrix still has time bars, if you loved that UI

ITA Matrix doesn't seem to do anything like Hipmunk's UI.

> flights are just not that profitable. In North America, you'd be lucky to get 1-2% commissions. In the rest of the world, it's a bit better, but Hipmunk was definitely North America-first.

Why is that not enough? Does 1-2% not cover the (hopefully minimal) costs of performing such searches and calculations?

1-2% is more of an upper bound. The numbers I've seen have been more like 10's of cents per conversion. And for whatever reasons, flight availability providers are not in the business of providing high throughput for clients, so the cost of performing those searches is probably considerably higher than you think. When I joined the travel industry I was shocked at what people considered reasonable latencies for availability calls, as well as the costs people pay just to get that level of performance.

If you want to make money in travel search, there's a lot more money in commissions for hotel bookings than in air.

That explains one of my pet peeves of all travel search sites that are primarily useful for air travel search defaulting to hotel search.

That’s surprising considering that there isn’t a Google Flights interface for hotels (I.e. an aggregator through which users can purchase hotel reservations through hotel providers directly)

It‘a roomkey.com , but Marriott/IHG/Hilton/Hyatt/Choice/Wyndham franchise most hotels and collect a 10% to 15% royalty of gross revenue from hotel owners, so they don’t care about commissions paid since it’s not coming out of their pocket.

http://www.ai.mit.edu/courses/6.034f/psets/ps1/airtravel.pdf might help you understand why it's not a trivial problem

(I'm not saying 1-2% commission should or shouldn't cover the costs, just pointing out what goes into these engines).

And yet, there are a bunch of services that offer flight search (whether or not it is profitable), none of which (that I know of) with a UI (as this is just a UI issue) as good as Hipmunk :(.

This is mostly just a marketing thing, balancing the lead returns for flights with the companies ability to rank/sell ads on Google/elsewhere.

I'm sure the margins are low but given the competition you need high volume to really win and it's a highly competitive and fragmented space.

The UI alone is only part of the business model.

Thanks for posting that link! I came across that presentation several years back and found it quite enlightening. Then I thought of it for some reason a few months ago and tried Googling for it but couldn't find it. Very glad to stumble upon it again, and this time I'll definitely bookmark it.

Google flights lets you adjust your flight takeoff and arrival times as well as min/max layover length, although the way that info is displayed when you're looking for a flight isn't quite as good as Hipmunk

Oh no kidding, you're BookWithMatrix? Shooting you an email, your website has been life-changing.

I second that! Came here specifically to see if anyone mentioned BookWithMatrix. So cool. :)

Why is it that Hipmunk had the best travel search interface I've used while SAP Concur's is absolute rubbish? What did they gain from the acquisition other than stopping a minor competitor?

> have made it into all major meta-search tools, so it's not for nothing!

Since I only use Hipmunk, which alternative would you say has the most comparable to the "agony" sort?

The interesting thing is the "Agony" sort has almost become standard! Skyscanner, Momondo, and others all default to a "Best" sort that takes into account flight length and prices.

Google Flights also does this for the first few results it returns, before returning a bunch of flights in price sort order.

I almost think I want a new kind of search these days, for which flights are actually cheapest, not just on ticket face price.

I want to know if I have to pay $30 each way to check a bag, or try to pack something that will fit in overhead, not trigger a TSA panic, and then struggle past everyone else's delays in security and boarding because they wanted to save $30 and are trying to carry on a bag they can barely lift over their head.

I want to know if they have created some "special class" that you have to pay $50 to be in, or wait twice as long at poorly staffed "regular" desks.

I want to know if they're skipping included meals on longer flights in favor of charging inflated prices.

I want to know if they're charging more for more desirable seats, both in location and comfort.

I want to know if they paywalled any other things that used to be standard.

You can go ahead and answer yes to all of those for any US airline and probably many non US airline, except maybe Singapore and the other top tier ones. But I assume that won’t be for long either.

It's sadly true for most. I have noticed that Southwest is a notable outlier in all this - they don't do any of that stuff. They also don't seem to register their flights on most of the search sites. It's like they know that those customers choose based on raw price alone, no room to sell any other differences. I make it a point to search their company site first before trying any other flight search.

Yeah, Southwest keeps their pricing info private for the most part. Depending on the route, you can do better on Southwest than basic economy on another airline (and you can check bags or whatever), but the lack of IFE, their route plans, and the fact that there is so assigned seating (which means you either pay for early boarding or save seats for travel companions, which the FAs refuse to do anything about), not to mention my aversion for the FA schtick are part of why I will only fly them if there is no other choice.

On southwest you have to buy priority boarding or whatever it’s called if you want to sit next to a specific person, otherwise you will end up filling individual middle seats. It’s all one and the same to me, they all have to meet their revenue targets.

This has almost never happened to me when flying maybe 20 flights with Southwest together with someone, but it has happened with traditional airlines like American or Delta when they have full flights.

With SW if you buy the tickets together, and check in first possible moment (24h before), you get assigned the same boarding position, usually a early B number. Then you board together and likely half of the plane is likely still empty when you board.

People also sometimes say they are reserving the seat for someone. Have never bought priority boarding.

Meals and bags:

Some do, some don't based on the route.

United decided to start bringing back free small snacks.

Also they brought back free wine/beer and 2 free bags in economy. *

Well they did that on my ORD-IAH-SCL-VAL/EZE-IAH-ORD route. But they don't do it for the Euro routes. It's really difficult to determine what your final cost is, and that is intentional. If I book a flight on Emirites, it's pretty easy to know what I'm getting.. but when compariing it to another airline, who knows what's the better value.

Thanks for BWM!

> I personally use a combination of ITA Matrix, Google Flights, and Skyscanner now

May I recommend http://azair.eu/ for low cost searches in EU? The UI is a bit weird when doing a one way as the label on the date pickers do not change but the meaning does, one is the earliest departure the other is the latest departure instead of return latest.

Huh, Wanderlog looks a hell of a lot like what I've been playing with for the past few weeks, after unexpectedly gaining much free time just before Christmas, and failing to find something similar for my own use!

I'd definitely be dropping you a line if a) I was anywhere near North America and b) a Javascript guy...

Just took a quick look at Wanderlog and it looks awesome - exactly what I want out of a trip planning tool.

Great job!

> flights are just not that profitable.

Trivago, Kayak, etc would say otherwise. Yes margins are slim, but this is a classic case of why no UI/UX will ever trump mass distribution. OTAs are basically the walmart of the digital world.

> Trivago, Kayak, etc would say otherwise.

Trivago is in the hotel business, which has better margins. Some sites like Expedia will actually take a loss on a flight if you book it with a hotel or rental car, which they make a profit on.

Kayak (and the rest of the Priceline/Booking.com group) takes a much more advertising driven model. You'll notice the site has lots of pushes to sign you up for their various mailing lists that yield long term reoccurring revenue on airline credit cards and travel packages.

It's odd to see so many commenters insist that there's money to be made in flight search, despite not having industry experience.

This comment nail it dead-on. Flights are a loss leader. It's the gateway to more profitable travel services like booking hotels, which ironically have shrinking margins over the last few years.

There's no need for an OTA middleman when a hotel can build a direct relationship with the customer (via loyalty programs).

Wow, wanderlog seems very cool! Way more intuitive than my custom google map / sheets that I've set up for a two week honeymoon around the corner. Will give it a whirl!

Can someone explain to me what Concur does? I'm guessing it handles a bunch of the travel stuff for bigcos with lots of travelling sales people?

Concur's a business travel platform. These differ from consumer platforms in a few ways:

1. Private negotiated rates - medium-large companies have bulk rate discounts individually negotiated with various chains that can be integrated into the search flow. 2. Policy management - rules like C-level staff can fly business class, or regular employees may fly premium economy for flights over X hours, etc. 3. Expense report integration.

These things are important enough that most large companies are willing to subject their employees to a subpar travel search experience to get this. (I work for a Concur competitor but freely admit that our search experience is also subpar compared to consumer sites).

We used it once at one of my previous employers. It was used for creating and approving expense reports for travel, with various elaborate options for approval flow and documentation.

Book travel and accommodations and track expense reports, with a focus on approval and compliance.

Everything Concur does, it does extremely poorly.

Because they don’t have real competition and what it does do (corporate travel management) it actually does well (in the backend). It’s front end and mobile app are pretty shit, however.

It does have some competition when it comes to expenses: Expensify, Netsuite, Salesforce and homegrown stuff come into mind.

It's perfect enterprise software. It meets the legal requirements and integrates with things like nesuite or peoplesoft. Whether it's easy to use or not is inconsequential.

Question if anybody knows: did Concur used to be good, and then became trash after it was acquired by SAP? Or was it always clunky and hostile?

In my experience, it was always trash. I’ve had to use it at every company I’ve ever worked at and it has never been good. At one company, the rule restrictions were so onerous that that and the UX made booking travel so appalling, I paid my own way more than once and then fought for a reimbursement rather than using it.

I travel pretty frequently so I often just call American Express (who acts as a Concur reseller for my company) directly to do the corporate bookings rather than futzing with Concur. I usually find the route I want ahead and then call Amex to price it out/book it. American Express is great — tho my company is big enough to have dedicated CSRs for our account, which helps. Concur is just frustrating.

That said, I will say that the worst parts of Concur are usually employer-made decisions. If your employer has really restrictive travel policies, that makes the Concur experience even worse. For instance, I’ve had the system insist I book an indirect flight that costs more than a direct because of how something is coded, with no way to override. My current employer has very decent travel policies so that’s not an issue, but if it is, it makes the terrible UX and bad search even worse.

I think it's gotten better actually. The jurassic version we had to use at megacorp back in 2014/15 was the only reason I had a windows VM installed. Whatever newer version was deployed a few years later was actually almost usable.

And, yeah, if I did more traveling I'd probably just call up our travel agent. But I'd still be on the hook for cash expenses.

The perennial enterprise software question.

Definitely focused on the business customer, mostly around travel planning and expense mgmt.


My company uses it for booking of flights, hotels, rental cars -- as well as for processing of the expense reports afterward.

Booking travel, getting group discounts, and expense management. Oh, the expense management... - royal pain in the butt.

Yep, corporate flight/travel booking for entire orgs. The Department of Defense uses it for its travel system, too.

I used it for trip planning and expenses when I worked at a BigCo. It reminded me a lot of Amex travel.

Yeah, Amex Travel is a reseller. I’m not sure if the backend the Amex Travel people see is the same as what we see as end users or if they have a different interface, but at my company, I call a number for Amex travel and speak to someone there, even for bookings made using Concur.

Hey I'd love to use your thing if you gave a way to export it as a Google Doc so I know I'd still have it if your service shutdown :)

Keep your eye on duffel.com. ;)

I used to use Hipmunk, but at this point, I’ve built up a lot of airline loyalty and often find booking directly with the carrier or through a credit card portal (if I’m using points) for personal travel gives me the best fare. All my business travel has to go through Concur anyway, so search tools like Hipmunk and Kayak don’t matter, no matter how nice the interface.

When I didn’t fly all the time, I didn’t care about loyalty. But I did 160,000 actual airline miles (far more FF miles earned) last year (most of them on one alliance, but enough to get lowest tier status on two others) last year and at this point, I’ll pay extra for Delta because I get auto-upgraded to Comfort+ at booking, I have a very good baggage allowance regardless of service class (assuming I’m main cabin and not basic economy, which I wouldn’t do anyway), I have a lounge membership, and I get frequent upgrades. At that point, my comfort and those benefits are way more important than saving a few dollars across airlines.

And that’s the problem with these types of services, I think. They cater to the occasional traveler who doesn’t travel enough to make a profit (unless you’re Google and you own the software everyone else has to license), whereas the frequent travelers are either booking through corporate tools or directly with one airline because they have loyalty — or both.

Catering to then majority of flyers who fly once a year, when margins are what they are on flights, is a tough business. It is interesting that Hipmunk's parent company got a piece of my $60k in travel last year (most of that was work, maybe $2500 was personal), because that’s where your percentages can matter.

> Hipmunk's parent company got a piece of my $60k in travel last year (most of that was work, maybe $2500 was personal), because that’s where your percentages can matter.

I think for corporate travel management, the fee structure is usually $X per transaction, rather than a percentage of the fare, although I can't speak to exactly how Concur charges, and it'll differ depending on the size of the customer. Average ticket prices for corporate airfare are likely considerably higher than for consumer, since that's where the majority of business class and refundable tickets are sold.

Bah, not a huge surprise given how brutal the travel tech industry is, but they remained my fav travel site - seemed to often find fares that were missing off google flights or other competitors. Loved the U/I too. RIP.

It's brutal because of lack of easy access to data, and more importantly, the ability to create bookings. IATA NDC API's should theoretically change this and get around the GDSs but I'm not holding my breath.

I've had a number of travel startup ideas but all were held back by access to data.

Define "brutal"

Booking has made money off travel hand over fist this past decade. It's highly competitive, sure, but for a reason since hotels pay massive premiums to these websites to drive sales.

Hotels have less of a monopoly on travel than airlines. Plus most hotels are franchised, so the brands don’t have an incentive to lower commissions paid as they still get their royalties from gross revenue, and it all comes out of the hotel owner’s pockets.

They and Expedia/Priceline were super super early into the game

I also found fares/options that I didn't find on other sites.

My favorite part was how the results were listed by "agony", defined as a trade-off between price and length of the trip.

As a Canadian, a feature I'd really like... request no stops in the USA. eg when flying to South America. (USA is a great country but doesn't get "in transit")

How many countries do? I take it for granted traveling through Europe, but made the 'mistake' of booking a USA->Peru trip through Mexico City rather than taking a lounger journey through Miami, and had to clear customs and fill out a landing card for Mexico. Then it ended up being the same when transiting through intermediate countries in South America. I have so damn many passport stamps from just one trip, where I'm much more accustomed to shengen and EU travel in general.

Perhaps its small countries that do it best. Eg Hong Kong, Singapore. Well, the website needs a database of "in transit" aware countries (or airports) and option to prefer them.

Ah, I've not flown through those other major international hubs. I bet places like Dubai are super easy as well. I vote for your proposal! :)

That being said, I would completely love to specify stopovers as the flight path, also completely avoid airlines (even fi they're codeshared). (I.e. Leftouthansa)

I've had fun with airwander.com for looking at potential stopovers -- never booked through them, though, so can't make it an official recommendation.

Usually when wanderlust strikes me, or I'm going somewhere terrible and want to inject "somewhere better" as a stopover, I find myself there contemplating the "ifs"

Something that’s hard for me to find is a website that gets me from point A to point B without caring about stop count and duration. Is the flight cheap and stops 23 hours in Hong Kong and 20 hours in Kuala Lumpur? I’ll take it.

Also Kiwi and Google Flights let you make wide searches but their efficiency drops so low they’re basically useless in my experience. You’re better off searching day by day.

Hipmunk never returned the best rates or routes for me so I had to drop it.

Lately I’m really into dohop.com because it shows routes that others don’t (South East Asia)

https://www.rome2rio.com/ (No affiliation) has always served this purpose (at least locally, in Australia) pretty well for me.

ITA matrix [1] shows prices calendar within 1 month for RT or OW, and for multicity it allows ±2 days for each leg.

Although it doesn't always return the best results if it has to go through thousands of routes (e.g. you specify many origin & destination airports and don't restrict by airline).

[1] https://matrix.itasoftware.com/

You might like https://flightfox.com/. Your use case is the opposite of theirs, but it could help!

I knew it but never used it. This seems to be worth a try:

> We guarantee to beat your quote by more than our fee otherwise our service is entirely FREE.

Thank you!

> Something that’s hard for me to find is a website that gets me from point A to point B without caring about stop count and duration. Is the flight cheap and stops 23 hours in Hong Kong and 20 hours in Kuala Lumpur? I’ll take it.

This used to Orbitz's specialty--save $15 with a 19 hour lay over. And they used to promote this by saying they had better search results. But, hey, they got rich off of Google, so probably the right move.

I occasionally end up on Orbitz and like many other big names they don’t show low cost airlines, which means some flights are 3-5x more expensive to begin with. I pity the customers who don’t know better

https://www.skiplagged.com is exactly what you are looking for! dirt cheap flights sometimes with like 12 hour layovers. If you have the time (but not necessarily the money) it is just the ticket

Assuming skiplagged is still doing hidden city ticketing, it's important to recognize the risks involved here (primarily that overuse of it may cause airlines to reject your bookings and/or shut down your frequent flier accounts). It's probably a reasonable tradeoff for someone just looking for the cheapest flight once, but likely isn't for frequent travelers.

Sadly it doesn’t seem to work in this part of the world. I keep trying it but it never shows any SkipLagged flights, just the regular ones

Off-topic: I have been a long-time Kayak user, but don't see many people mention it hear when discussing Hipmunk. Does anyone feel strongly that one of the competitors is better than Kayak? If so, could you elaborate?

I have occasionally used Google Flights, but it seemed to have fewer knobs and I could not find any features that made me want to stay. The only competitors I have consistently but rarely used is Skiplagged, since it performs a kind of search (of somewhat dubious morals) that can't be done with Kayak.

(disclaimer - worked at Kayak a long time ago)

A big part of what made Kayak good was that it was (is?) a solid data product - basically a gigantic farm of scrapers and crawlers glommed together with direct-from-provider (airline, hotel etc) data ingestion pipelines and coherence protocols that flowed into massive unified local cache databases. All this to ensure that you, as a customer, saw the most up to date and widest variety of information possible.

When Kayak IPO'd, it was around the time that ITA software (massive airline data provider you've never heard of) got sold to google, and there was a lot of hand wringing over whether this'd spell the end for Kayak. But even then it looks like ITA supplied only 42% of flight data (check out the S1 filing https://www.sec.gov/Archives/edgar/data/1312928/000119312510...), the rest from other data providers (Amadeus etc), online travel agencies, or individual airlines.

So given that, Hipmunk's focus on "we're gonna make the UX so much better" was admirable (especially given the state of a lot of the competition), and it pushed everyone to do better in that regard, but always felt a bit naive as a business strategy to me, since I think most people will pick the site with the slightly worse UI and better / cheaper / non-stale flights rather than the other way round. Especially in a non-premium race to the bottom industry like online tickets. And getting quality data takes a big team and lots of money and infrastructure, as well as lots of business relationships.

But I always thought they were a cut above a lot of the other competitors which were bad UIs mangled with dozens of ads thrown together in a slapshod way on top of the same 1-2 data providers.

Thanks! I have the vague impression that there are fewer stale or missing flights on Kayak than competitors, but I haven't done a bunch of comparisons recently, so I'm very interested in what others think.

I haven't used Kayak in a while. I use Google Flights because I like the date grid. Usually my dates are flexible.

FYI Kayak has a date grid. When selecting a date, click the drop-down menu labeled "exact" and choose "+-3 days" (or whatever).

Google Flights is faster than Kayak was.

Faster at populating the date grid? Or just a snappier UI in general?

Google Flights immediately populates the date grid with price estimates after you pick a date. I have yet to see a competitor that has this feature.

But those are estimates and not the final prices displayed after you pick the date. If you specifically want the cheapest date, the grid is barely useful. ITA matrix usually does a better job.

I used to use Kayak and Skyscanner but started using Google Flights more recently because it has a much nicer interface.

Anything in particular you like about Google Flights over Kayak? Aesthetics, functionality, or efficiency?

I just opened Kayak for the first time in a LONG time. - I don't like the rows and rows of panels trying to get me to go to other pages or see their guides. - I want a search focused page. - I don't like how when I click search, it automatically opens up cheapoair. - I don't like how the results page starts with a modal asking me to setup a price alert.

Thanks. I basically agree with those complaints. For what it's worth Kayak will stop automatically opening up comparisons like CheapOAir if you uncheck the box once, and it seems to remember that preference. I think the price alert modal is also a one-time thing.

For me it's because google flights is more responsive and faster with search results compared to kayak.

I like skiplagged's price graph, which I didn't realize until now kayak has too. Skiplagged shows it in the search result, while kayak shows it only on the front page.

I'll miss hipmunk's time chart when trying to plan flights.

Yea, I do wish Kayak had this, on the search page (although they do have a color-coded grid illustrating how prices change if you adjusted your dates +-3 days).

It's been a couple of years since I did much air travel. When I did, hipmunk's sort was much better than Kayak's. Kayak was my favorite before hipmunk opened. Once hipmunk came along, I tended to use both when searching for flights, just to see if a better deal popped up on one but not the other.

You mean you liked the criteria by which Hipmunk sorted flights, e.g., by accounting for layover time rather than just by price? If so, not that Kayak has a "Best" sort (which didn't exist when Hipmunk appeared) that's now the default.

That's really sad. Hipmunk has been the only way I've found flights for the last several years, and I always loved it!

Personally, I don't know what else to use instead.

Google Flights is excellent.

I'm a huge fan of Kayak.

I'll miss Hipmunk. My career as a video producer started by creating an animation explaining their service back in late 2010. At that time, Alexis Ohanian was their marketing principal and he introduced me to many YC startups in need of similar videos. Soon after, I got to meet him, Adam Goldstein, and Ashton Kuther in person at SxSw 2011. Super nice people. Fond memories!

Unrelated: it took me until this very moment to realize that hipmunk is chipmunk without the C. Is this the origin of the name and I am literally the last to figure it out?

You are definitely not the last since I hadn’t realized it either :)

Oh, bummer!

I love the product and have even used it within the last few days. Thank you Adam and Steve for building something I used for 9 years.

I had the weirdest experience at the airport yesterday, LAX. I went to the the United ticket counter to buy a ticket for lax to nyc, same day. They told me I was better off buying online. In fact they looked completely unprepared to book a ticket. I couldn’t believe it. I checked other counters and sure enough, I was at the right place.

So I tried using Hipmunk yesterday. It felt tired to me for some reason. I ended up booking on Amex platinum travel. Who do people use for booking flights?

Lots of weirdness in travel these days. The last time I booked a flight on Delta (October) I found out that it can no longer handle cash payments at the airport. Not for anything. Not tickets, not baggage fees, not upgrades. Nothing.

They direct you to a place in the airport where you can guy a Visa gift card with cash and then pay for what you need from Delta.

I don't know if that's true of other carriers these days, or not.

offloading liability for cash tickets (terrorism) onto someone else.

DO NOT EVER buy a ticket with cash. It's silly since it's the nation's currency.

Yes, it is silly you can "avoid it" by other card methods. But at least theres a longer trail associated with that, and probably puts you at a lower risk of being labeled as a concern.

In the early 2000's (pre- and post-9/11) my wife had a job where she would 2-3 times a month get a phone call at 5am and then have to go to the airport and get on the next plane to whatever city was specified by her boss, take care of business, and then return at the end of the day. Paid for her ticket in cash, and her only luggage was her purse and her Palm Pilot (actually a Sony Clié UX50, which I remember because it was awesome).

She got pulled aside by security every single time for extra pat-downs and such. It got so frequent that they knew her by name, but they still went through the routine every single time.

She's very glad not to have that job anymore, but for other reasons.

That's an extremely niche transaction and when I'm waiting to check my bag I'm glad I don't have to wait for someone who can't use the website to try and book a trip. I can't believe you waited and were told to go to the website and decided to wait again just to make sure. What's wrong with united.com?

If it's through my usual airline I just book through the site or app, it takes a few seconds as they already have all of my information from pre-check to billing. Otherwise Google Flights is a great search interface and gives you a link to book directly through the airline.

Here’s exactly how it rolled out: I get a call, my wife has been taken to the hospital in nyc, and it’s a bad situation.

I look at google flights, see the upcoming flights, don’t book because I don’t know how long it will take to get to the airport.

Driving to the airport, I call Delta, almost book their flight until they casually mention it’s delayed 8 hours.

Call United, it’s a 30 minute wait to book a ticket.

I put my Tesla in auto steer and pull out the app. Fucking thing keeps reminding me to touch the steering wheel. Eventually the Tesla revokes my auto steer privileges for the rest of the drive. Thanks. A. Lot.

I scream into the airport, while talking to Amex travel. There’s an united flight boarding in 20 minutes. Amex tells me that due to the inherent delay in the online ticketing process, to buy my ticket at the airport.

And that’s why you might have someone who couldn’t use the website to book a trip.

They say you don’t know what the guy in front of you could be dealing with. I was that guy that day.

I called Amex back and they expedited the ticketing. United never called me back after I left my number earlier for their automated call back service for the 30 minute hold time.

I tried buying a ticket same day a few months ago in SJC at the airport ticket counter. The agent would not sell me a ticket. I was told to go online.

I'm a bit confused. You'd go to the United ticket counter in person but then don't go to united.com when asked to book online?

May I ask why that wasn't your first choice for this particular incident?

Why go to UA.com when you can talk to a person that can tell you about the plane loads, what has more availability with FC/B. Also if you're flying that day, they can tell you more about the backpressure on flights. Not everything has to do with the cheapest price.

Most of the airlines like to complain that people are only focused on the price. They market themselves and try to make themselves look at price. They don't offer a lot of transparency on their product and they complain why people are using their site as intended. (Or avoiding it with comparisons)

The flight was going to board in 20 minutes. I still needed to get through TSA, etc. I didn’t feel I could trust trying to book online vs. the person at the terminal in front of me.

Might be a generational thing.

It'd also make sense if their phone got broken unexpectedly.

I rarely need same day flights or even short notice flights unless they're for work (in which case they would book the flight for me using their travel agent). As a result I'm flexible with the airline and travel dates and usually have months in advance to shop. Typically I'll set up alerts on Hopper as soon as I know I'll be traveling, and that will tell me the right time to buy. I'll often also look at the budget airlines sites themselves as well because I know a lot of them don't allow aggregators.

I always liked the Hipmunk branding :-)

It and Padmapper are two services I occasionally use almost entirely because they have cute mascots. I’d probably even buy t-shirts with them.

I really liked Hipmunk's interface and used it to dream often.

What I want out of airline aggregators, and what GFlights seems to do alright at:

  * Multi-city itineraries
  * Source and destination searches based on region/airport group (e.g. "AUS or DFW or IAH -> MUC or LHR)
  * Date range searching for flexible schedules and pricing
One of my example searches recently:

I want a flight from somewhere in Texas to somewhere in western europe, then to Dublin, then back to somewhere in Texas. I want to go for 9-13 days in February or March. Show me results by price.

GFilghts seems to do this pretty well. I used to like Hipmunk, but I don't know if it had any competitive advantage over other systems mentioned here. They certainly pushed the envelope, even influencing the tools we name today.

And to other comments, it is indeed unfortunate that pricing data is so obscured by airlines. Another instance in which the government should mandate more transparency.

Damn, I've been a Hipmunk user since the very start. Probably 50 different flights through them. Can anybody recommend a replacement, particularly the sort-by-price, sort-by-agony, and the visual UI?

I would have paid a 2-5% HipMunk fee to not have to go to all of the individual websites..

I've been using google flights after Hipmunk started losing carriers.

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