I had the opportunity to stop by Hipmunk’s offices in San Francisco last week and chat with some of them employees about the service. It’s nice to see a company that reaches out to critics (even largely positive critics) to learn more about how they can improve the user experience.
For a history of my past reviews of Hipmunk, see:
- Kayak vs. Hipmunk Smackdown: Flight Edition
- Kayak vs. Hipmunk Smackdown: Hotel Edition
- Update on Hipmunk Flight Search
- Update on Hipmunk Hotel Search
While I get no compensation from Hipmunk, either from these reviews or from the advertisement in my side bar, I appreciate the opportunity to write about a start-up company that is both easy to use and still striving to improve. Hopefully you’ll agree they have some potential and will check them out.
This last update didn’t reach me until after the product release, but in the future I’ll try to alert you to changes before they appear. Although Hipmunk is certainly functional on a traditional web browser, I think one of the aspects that contributes to its user friendliness is that it’s almost as if it was designed as a mobile app first. This is especially noticeable when using it for hotel search. If there are things you’d like to see on Hipmunk, let me know so I can relay them to the developers.
The big new change was integrating Hipmunk’s search tool with your calendar, including iCal. It will alert you if you have any events occurring on the same day of travel so that you can plan your flight around them and avoid a conflict that might prevent you from making it to the airport on time. Although I like the idea, I think it can be improved dramatically by also alerting you to events that occur between the dates of travel. For example, you may be looking for a trip from Seattle to San Francisco two weekends from now, and perhaps you have nothing scheduled on Friday or Sunday. But if you have a dinner scheduled with friends on Saturday, it would be good to get an alert so that you can change your plans and fly another weekend.
Kept Hotels on Hipmunk
Although flight search tools have allowed users to save flights or individual segments of an itinerary for a while now, I am not aware of many that have allowed you to save hotels. This is important for two reasons. First, unlike flights, hotels have a crazy amount of variability. You can’t just sort by price or departure time. Location on a map varies in two dimensions, and if you are at all concerned about nearby amenities, there are even times when a second option two blocks away is no longer acceptable because it’s next to a freeway or too far from a subway station.
The second reason is that when you’re working on a mobile device, landscape is limited. You need something that will pop up, save the information, and then disappear so you can keep looking for options two and three. You may be scrolling around the page hiding some of the earlier possibilities you found, so it can be hard to keep track of them.
The “kept” hotels feature allows you to save up to three hotels you find in your hotel search so that you can go back to them later and compare your best options. I think it works really well for both iPhone and iPad versions of the mobile app (and if you have an iPad, I think this is where Hipmunk really shines; it’s also easier for me to show you this feature in the screenshot below than on an iPhone).
My only criticisms are that there is probably space for more than three hotels (I’d like to see five, because I’m indecisive) and that the ability to view previously saved hotels is limited by the filters in place at the time you go to retrieve them. Lets say you set your filters to only view Hyatt properties and pick your favorite one. Then you change the filters to view only Starwood properties and pick your favorite one. Now if I change my filter to Hilton properties, I can click on those saved buttons as much as I want, but they won’t bring up the Hyatt or Starwood hotels. In order to go back and view the two properties, you will need to adjust your filter settings to view both brands. In a way, it’s just re-activating one of the dots on the screen, and that dot disappears if you exclude it with the filters even though it doesn’t disappear form the kept hotels menu.
So there are minor gripes about how well the calendar and save features work, but on the whole I think they make it easier to search for travel. These are yet more examples of how Hipmunk is continuing to come up with new ideas. Maybe they don’t all reach their full potential out of the gate, but I don’t think they’re holding it back either. Implementing some of the changes I’ve suggested would be more complicated than the original version, but the developers I spoke to agreed that it would be interesting to include event information during the actual travel.
Hipmunk’s PR manager, Jacqueline, was also kind enough to give me a couple of Hipmunk bag tags and a T-shirt. Aren’t those hipmunks adorable? That’s a good way to make your bag unique, although I worry some baggage handler is going to like them as much as I do. And here’s a shot of Megan modeling her shirt. She’s adorable too 😉