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Hipmunk needs to ramp up on usability (durga-ydydt.posterous.com)
32 points by durga on Aug 10, 2011 | hide | past | favorite | 20 comments

A year ago, I tried multiple times to use Hipmunk, only to be turned off by the site. I don't think I "got it" then. Like the author, I found sites like Kayak or Bing easier to use. It returned the data I needed (cheapest price!) and did it well.

And then one day I needed to find flights based on departure times. As I played around with Hipmunk, I realized how much better the experience was. From the various sort methods (price, time, agony) linking to seatguru.com for research, and allowing me to purchase my trips in two steps, I've become a believer. My last three fights have all been booked through hipmunk without even considering visiting the other sites.

Basically, Hipmunk allows me to book flights that work for me (I want to leave Thursday at 4:45PM and return Friday at 6:40PM) rather than something that accommodates me (For 449 dollars, I can leave Thursday at 2:15PM and return Friday at 9:45PM. Or, if I'm flexible, I can save 50 and leave at 6:00 AM and return Friday at 4:00 PM... I guess I'll do that...)

hey j79,

thanks for the comment. :)

I'll confess I don't quite get your last paragraph. Could you elaborate on how Hipmunk helps with schedules better than Kayak?

thanks Durga

My immediate thought was "Nice try, Kayak employee" until I saw the bio at the bottom of the page.

Your points are a bit strange, and in some cases largely baseless criticism. You seem to want less power, and less overview? In that case, use any flight search engine that isn't Hipmunk.

There is one point that I dislike about Hipmunk that you did not touch upon: Its selection/coverage of non-America flights/airlines is lackluster (although recently it's been improving). I nearly always have to doublecheck with a local flight search engine to ensure that I'm getting a fair price.

Haha. Far from it, I'm a fan of reddit and was excited when Hipmunk came out. There's a link to my first blog post on Hipmunk at the beginning of this post.

I haven't tried international flights yet. I do think Hipmunk will do really well if they fix the UI issues, even if they do only domestic flights well.

Didn't get the points in your 2nd paragraph. I'm arguing for more usability; how does that correspond to less power/overview?


> 6. Modifying a flight search

I was hung up by this as well until I learned that "new search" is a modified search that starts with the parameters from the old search. Still the lack of a modify button was discocerting even once I figured this out.

An additional complaint: once you select both legs to purchase and a dialog pops up where you can click to actually purchase there is no "x" to cancel or "escape" to go back. It was frustrating that I had to reload and lose all of my state to do this.

hey onedognight,

Good points.

Hipmunk does start the new search with old parameters. And once one has discovered that, the mental burden of clicking on "New Search" does go down a little bit. Agree.

As you point out, the obvious counterpoint: how is this better than modifying the current search parameters?

One could perhaps argue that when a person is looking for 2 entirely different flights, it'd be useful to open the new search in a new window. But honestly, how common is the use case of a person searching for 2 entirely different flights at the same time? Not very common. When I'm on a travel website, I'm usually trying to book one particular flight. Perhaps a travel agency would disagree but is that really the mainstream market?

And if I needed to actually book 2 different flights, I'd just open a new tab in my browser to search for the 2nd flight. The "New Search" tab has no business being there.

To your 2nd point: I noticed that and was completely lost when I couldn't find a way to get rid of the popup. Then I realized by trial and error that clicking elsewhere on the page made it go away. This behavior might be intentional: don't give the user an obvious option to cancel, and thereby hopefully increase conversion. But it's going to backfire - users don't like to feel trapped.

Kayak has a similar popup with a clear X option.


I could not disagree more vehemently.

1. Default sorting by agony has been wonderful for me. I'm willing to pay a moderate amount more for a flight that doesn't suck - whereas most travel sites would rather assume I'm a complete scrooge that wants to squeeze every last dollar off the price, redeyes and multi-airline connections be damned!

Hipmunk lets me look at pricing and "quality of experience" at a glance. The nifty bars also let me make my own decision about the "agony" of the flight instead of simply trusting Hipmunk's own metric.

2. IMHO, nonsense. I've never been once confused by the "from $XXX" term on Hipmunk - it means that the price can vary depending on what I select for the other leg. Secondly, the problem with Kayak's approach is that I have to sift through endless pages of the same departing flight, but with varying returning flights - or vice versa. That's not empowering, that's tedium. If I could count the times on Kayak where I've had to compare prices, then compare if the two have the same departing flight... or the same returning flight... argh.

3. I don't even know how to respond to this one. Everyone I've shown Hipmunk to, ever, has been ecstatic about being able to pick the legs separately. Methinks the blog author falls into an edge case and is not representative of the general population. Hell, I think this is one of those things that will make Hipmunk win.

4. So why is the precise departure or arrival important when deciding which flight you want to book? Does 9:05am vs. 9:20am really make a salient difference? From what I can tell, the whole point of Hipmunk is that it gives you a more powerful overarching view of your choices, instead of getting you stuck in the details. Getting the precise time is as easy as clicking on a choice - but when I'm making a decision on the quality of a flight I sure as heck don't need to know my times down to the minute.

5. I'll agree on this part. Being able to specify departure/arrival time ranges is pretty powerful.

6. Could not disagree more. One thing that's I've liked about Hipmunk is the ability to run multiple searches in parallel. Kayak on the other hand forces me to open a new tab, fill in everything all over again to do the same. The fact that Kayak will time-out your (very, very bodacious) search results after some time makes this doubly annoying. Kayak dumps you a metric ton of data and expects you to comb through it in how long?

7. Agreed.

Bottom line: I think the author is disconnected from what consumers want out of flight searches. Or rather, what a large segment of consumers want, who are under-served by the current players in the market - that is to say, the people who are willing to pay some premium for a flight experience that isn't painful, and want a tool that will allow them to make this decision easily.

Kayak was a godsend when it first came out - it was so, so far ahead of what we dared call online flight booking. But, it's starting to show its age - lately I don't even want to go to Kayak, the search results page is like nails on chalkboard.

Here's a suggestion to Kayak that (IMHO) would massively improve the UX: group flight pairs by departing flight. Give me each departing flight, then for each departing flight give me the available returning flights and the corresponding package prices. That would make the results so much easier to parse. As it is I get 10 different results that are all actually the same departing flight paired with every possible returning flight under the sun. It's annoying.

Yes, Hipmunk is very usable once you figure out how to use it, but after being trained by every travel website on the planet for years it is not very easy to use at first. I agreed with most of the authors points.

Last time I took a trip I tried out Hipmunk and was very confused about the picking my return flight separately. Once I figured it out, it was pretty cool. I still used Kayak though.

Kayaks ability to specify departure and arrival times is just too convenient if you're trying to work around a schedule. I think people like picking flights separately on Hipmunk to solve that exact problem and it's much simpler to do that on Kayak. Maybe I'm wrong, but that's why I like Kayak better.

As far as timing out searches goes, flight prices really do change every few minutes. I've waited an hour to buy a plane ticket and had to pay 20 more dollars. Kayak lets you save searches so at least you don't have to enter all your information again.

>Kayak lets you save searches so at least you don't have to enter all your information again.

The free iMacros macro recorder addons for IE, chrome and firefox solve this issue on any website: https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/imacros-for-f...

That is a hack at best around a usability problem in your service if that is your recommendation.

If I ran a website and my users were using such a thing I'd consider that a major fail on my part.

> Getting the precise time is as easy as clicking on a choice - but when I'm making a decision on the quality of a flight I sure as heck don't need to know my times down to the minute.

And you get the precise duration as well, including the precise duration of each leg and the layovers if there are any.

> 5. I'll agree on this part. Being able to specify departure/arrival time ranges is pretty powerful.

You can. It's even shown on the tips during search (#4): drag the black bars on the side. The dropbox on the right has some preselected ranges (redeye, no redeye, no early morning, no morning)

Great discussion where I don't necessarily see that one point is right over another as much of this is on preferences for how to view information. I'll try and add some color from my knowledge of the travel industry and having been at Bing Travel and currently at a travel-focused startup.

1. Both of you agree that the core intention of removing just plain bad flights is a good default for users since you're looking out for what most people would consider unreasonably painful flights. The difference is whether or not calling it "Agony" makes sense to most people. A good solution is to call out for new users that "we have removed flights with 3+ stops or out of the way connections. to see all flight options, clear filters" and remove the pre-set filter conditions.

2. I would agree with Durga here that "From.." sounds like a lead price and is normally looked up on in retailing with some skepticism. However, in the case of Hipmunk, because you are picking one leg, it makes sense since there is a wide range of pricing that begins with that base departure leg.

3. On Kayak, see a departing flight you like? Hover over and click on it and it'll now filter and show only flights with that departure leg so pages of results become usually just one or two pages all with the same departing flight. Maybe one way to solve this without a second click is to show all of the return options on hover over a departure leg on Hipmunk.

4. Durga's point is that for flights with multiple stops, it's useful to know actual time in air so for people who hate flying you can optimize your price-vs-fly-time tradeoff.

5. Agreed, you can do some basic grouping like most travel sites do with early morning/morning/afternoon/evening/night.

6. I've been thinking about this a bit as we work on our product and the pros of the tabs are: You can see a better layout of the information vs. the default display in a browser tab but the cons are heavier weight within the browser especially if your site has multiple views/layouts. Also, if you start creating too many searches, the tabs start breaking other elements of the layout. By default, you could make "new search" open a new tab landing on an optimized search page w/ your last search parameters pre-filled.

7. Agreed to a large degree but I can see how they might want people to know that there IS live help available, just not right now. Maybe put more useful info like "Offline - back at 8AM" or "Offline - Email Us".


Great to see your thoughts.

1. Sorting by agony: I'm glad to hear that this feature is useful for some folks. But why do I have to go to the FAQ page to understand what Agony is? Do you really believe mainstream users would go and read FAQs before buying products? The benefit of sorting by "Agony" must be explicit on the results page itself. How to make it explicit is something the UI designers at Hipmunk need to think about.

2. From $639: When I'm walking by a store and my wife points me to a sign that says "dresses from 99$", the sceptic in me reminds her that there are probably just a few dresses that are priced $99(maybe just 1?). The rest are probably priced at 199 or 299 or even 2599. We sometimes still end up going in and buying something, but are very aware that the "From" is deceiving.

Or when we see a sign that says "Discount upto 60%" where the fontsize of the "Discount upto" part is 20 and the "60%" part is 1000. We know there could be just one item that has a 60% discount. We are skeptical.

When a user sees "From 200$" on Hipmunk, the same flag is raised. I'd say, just remove the "From". As long as they get at least one flight at that price, they're not going to complain. Why confuse users with an extra confusing word?

3. Picking flight legs separately: I'm not sure what the basis is of labeling this an edge case. I search for flights, Hipmunk presents me with onward options. At this stage, I have zero visibility into what return options I have for each flight shown. How would you find out the return options? By selecting each individual flight in turn and going to the choose return flight page. That sounds like a lot of potential back and forths (read clicks!) to me. We all know what increasing the number of clicks does to conversion numbers on ecommerce websites.

I'm not saying being able to pick legs has no benefit. I'm arguing that this is not the most common use case users care about. A business traveler who has enough time and doesn't have to worry about prices would probably love this feature. But that doesn't sound like the mainstream user to me. And if I were Hipmunk, my target would be mainstream users who aren't the most patient. Think bounce rates? :)

4. We might be talking of different things here. my fourth point was about flight durations, I'd like to know how long a flight is. Hipmunk just shows a strip between vertical time markers are spaced 4 hours apart. To find out the duration: (a) I have to hover over the flight (2) I need to do a quick calculation in my head of how long a flight is that departs at 6 am PST and lands at 4.35 PM PST. Not easy.

Flight durations are important: they indicate how long I'm stuck on a flight.

6. How common is the use case of a person searching for more than 1 flight at the same time? Say, you were looking for a weekend flight from SFO to Boston. What added benefit would you get from opening two tabs?

I'm open to the notion that folks might want to run parallel searches. I just don't understand the logic or benefit of doing it. Please educate me :)

I think Hipmunk is quite promising. I wrote this when it came out: http://www.dpsmiles.org/blog/2010/08/19/hipmunk-a-review/

My problem is: I keep telling my wife I like Hipmunk, but when it's time to book a flight, I end up going to the somewhat ugly but really easy to use Kayak. That should ring an alarm bell for Hipmunk: when well wishers praise your product but never use it. So I could have very well titled my blog post "Why I love Hipmunk but never use it.."

I had been using Hipmunk ever since I first heard about it on techcrunch. I stopped using it a few weeks ago when I searched for a flight from BOS to DFW. Hipmunk told me there were ZERO non-stop flights on the return leg. Yet using the same exact search criteria on Orbitz or Kayak revealed plenty. I e-mailed them about it but never received a response, maybe they have fixed it. It doesn't matter how slick the UI is, if the data can't be trusted, I won't use it.

I agree. I tried using Hipmunk but I keep going back to Kayak. I find it more usable and pretty. I can exclude certain airlines or f.ex. flights with more than one stop with the checkboxes. Plus changing departure and destination airports is a breeze. (I often browse available flights without having my mind set up on a destination.) The diagrams are useful, too.

> Plus changing departure and destination airports is a breeze. (I often browse available flights without having my mind set up on a destination.)

Hipmunk's "new search" starts from your previous search. Just close the current tab (or click the new one) and change the destination airport. Even allows you to keep multiple searches open in different tabs to make your choice.

What most of these commenters seem to completely miss is that if a site is not obvious to a user in 2-6 seconds, it will not work and you will lose users. You cannot expect people to hover here and there nor read FAQs to understand the concepts.

I have nothing against HipMunk, but it does lack a clear value proposition when you land there.

Hipmunk is good for finding the best flight, but the actual booking is much better on the carrier website.

I haven't used Hipmunk because Kayak has always delivered results quickly and painlessly.

Hipmunk reminds me of Macro Economics in college, and how I had to extract so much information from lines on a graph. I'd break out in a cold sweat when asked to do so in front of the class. I hated it.

The Hipmunk graphs look like homework to me. I don't want homework. Just state the information clearly so I can move on with my life.

> The Hipmunk graphs look like homework to me. I don't want homework. Just state the information clearly so I can move on with my life.

I find Hipmunk's information very clear: each row is a flight, you get the price, the rough departure/arrival time, the legs and layovers. If you want more info out of an interesting flight, click on it. Hovering gives you the precise departure and arrival times for the flight.

The only kind-of strange thing is the default sorting order, which I generally find excellent but looks messy at first glance.

In any case, it's unlike homework in every way, shape or form I can think of.

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