Skyscanner.net first appeared on the scene as the original flight search engine but over the last few years, a number of other companies have developed sites which offer a similar service. Every now and then, we like have to a trawl through the internet to see who is doing what in the flight search market and have a look at which products are out there.
One of the major factors for designers of a flight search engine is deciding which results to display - do you show affiliate airlines and companies only? Do you show just airline results or those from travel portals as well? For example, some flight search engines do not show any budget flights so when you could be flying somewhere for a fiver, you are shown only results for the scheduled airlines where you might pay twenty or thirty times as much for a ticket. The best sites quickly show as many airlines as possible and take you direct to the airline’s booking page with your travel dates filled in.
We looked at eight popular travel search sites and whilst many of them do lots of other things other than show you flight results, this is the functionality on which we concentrated. We did the same search on each to compare the results where the standardised search was for a single, transatlantic flight on the highly competitive route between London Heathrow and John F. Kennedy International in New York. We assessed the sites on a number of criteria and the details can be seen in the table below:
|Cheapflights||2/10||2 mins 16 secs||£249||Swiss International Airlines|
|Dohop||5/10||2 mins 25 secs||£248.36||Aer Lingus (via Dublin)|
|Flightcentre||3/10||1 min 11 secs||£503.80||Virgin Atlantic|
|Kayak||8/10||1 min 17 secs||£193.10||Air India|
|Mobissimo||6/10||1 min 9 secs||£197.02||Air India (through Cheapflights)|
|Momondo||6/10||1 min 40 secs||£194||Air India|
|Sidestep||8/10||1 min 41 secs||£202.70||Virgin Atlantic|
|Travelsupermarket||7/10||1 min 14 secs||£199.20||Air India|
We also had a good rummage around in the functionality of the various sites and the reviews below are our initial thoughts about the sites. Skyscanner.net was not included in the comparison - partly because impartiality seemed to be an issue but also because we are much too sporting to gloat - should we get the opportunity….
Cheapsite.co.uk might be a more appropriate title for this one. The second thing you notice is how difficult it is to find your way around. The homepage doesn’t default to a search by date and instead this requires clicking a not very obvious tab elsewhere. The results when they arrived were mixture of airline and portal with the cheapest being a US Airways flight using AirlineNetwork.co.uk. Clicking on this link meant having to re-input details and when the results eventually came back, no US Airways flights were shown. Instead, the best they could come up with was £249 with a completely different airline - £45 more than the quoted price.
Verdict: tedious to navigate and unhelpful results.
Dohop has a simple and efficient homepage and the predictive destination list works well. The calendars are a bit confusing, but overall, you can input your information easily. You would expect the results page to show flights in price order - which it sort of does - but not quite. The speed of the results is impressive, but a large proportion of the prices are not immediately there - which accounts for the speed. Clicking on the cheapest flight at £186 (including all fees and taxes the site claimed) meant going through to the airline site, where it turned out the quoted price was wrong and was in fact over sixty pounds more expensive than Dohop had suggested.
Verdict: simple to use but prices inaccurate.
The main thing you notice when you go to the Flightcentre homepage (apart from the unpleasant colour scheme) is their strapline - “unbeatable”. It depends what they are referring to of course but if it’s flight prices, then in this test, it is rather ironic. Not so much “unbeatable” as “beaten by everyone by a country mile”. The results (all two of them) came back quickly but the price of £503.80 with Virgin Atlantic was over £300 more expensive than a price Sidestep found with the same airline on the same day.
Verdict: looks cheap and the price is through the roof.
This site is very much one of the best out there at the moment. The interface is simple to use, the results come up quickly and in our test, the site found the cheapest available flight having searched through a comprehensive list of airlines. The results are displayed in a variety of ways depending on your preferences and these can be customised to best suit your requirements. In addition, the site looks professional but “friendly” which all adds up to a very good travel search engine indeed.
Verdict: looks great, has flexible search options and results are quick and accurate.
With a homepage that looks remarkably similar to the Easyjet website, the snappily titled Mobissimo challenges its users’ knowledge of American geography from the start. If you choose the “Airport look up” option, you will have to know which state your destination city is in - fine if you live in the States, not so fine if you live anywhere else. Results come up quickly and are comprehensive but presented as a big chunk of data which is hard to read. Once through to the vendors the prices are often quoted in US dollars which means you need a calculator handy. There is also a “Top Mobissimo Pick!” - though having done numerous searches, this is never the cheapest option and presumably is the “top pick” for them rather than you.
Verdict: US-focused site which makes little concession to European users.
Going to the Momondo site is rather like walking into a disco - not necessarily unpleasant, but certainly loud. The interface works well and predictive destination lists are fast. The flight results take a while to arrive but on the plus side, they are comprehensive and filters can be applied to narrow down your search. The price calendar is rather confusing and also displays Danish text even if you select an English language version of the site from the outset. Overall though, this site works well and looks sufficiently unusual that you would probably remember it.
Verdict: a few bugs to iron out but basically a very good site.
This is another impressive search engine. Again, simple to use and the results - whilst a little on the slow side to arrive - are thorough and well laid out. The layout is reminiscent of Kayak and you are given the opportunity to refine your search based on a number of criteria. One useful filter allows you specify landing and take off time slots so that a flight on a particular day is as convenient for you as possible. The only minor criticism is that the results page might have a few too many options on it but it’s hard to criticise extra available functionality.
Verdict: difficult to find fault - an excellent site that is easy to use.
This site delivers decent prices in a relatively timely manner. The interface is perfectly user-friendly but it lacks the more advanced functionality of some of the other sites. Results are displayed in a format which is clear - unless, that is, you click for alternative dates and airports. Having done this, it is not immediately obvious which are the alternative flights and they appear in a random date order. Equally, “LHR London Heathrow” and “London Heathrow” were listed as two different airports - a potentially confusing distinction to make for some travellers.
Verdict: a basic site which is basically okay.
Figures quoted correct as at 29 January 2008