Even Expedia, Orbitz and Travelocity had to start somewhere. A handful of new travel search engines and other interesting travel resources have popped up recently, aiming to fill the gaps that the bigger companies leave in their wake, clamoring for your business, your travel preferences, and your loyalty (one can hope). We've looked at a few of the more promising ones that have emerged.
The Latest Entrant in the War of the Fare Search Engines
Billing itself as "your inside connection for worldwide travel" cFares (www.cfares.com; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org), which officially launched March 8, offers discount airfare for international travel. Their search engine allows you to troll through hundreds of websites, multiple airlines, including discount carriers and wholesalers. They've developed technology designed "to ensure that the lowest-priced flights are chosen as often as possible," says the website. Basic or gold membership is free -- just sign up on the site -- but they're offering a platinum membership for a $50 annual fee that gives you access to their "insider" additionally-discounted fares from "top airline consolidators." When you enter your search terms -- airport, dates, number of passengers -- the results are divided into platinum and gold fares, so you can easily compare the price difference between the two membership levels.
So, how does it do it? Their patent-pending dynamic pricing engine searches and searches hundreds of sites. (Literally. You have to click a STOP button to cease the search application.) The technology "allows cFares to bring below-market point of sale prices to our members," explains Vajid Jafri, chairman and CEO of cFares. While the company does not offer a lowest worldwide price guarantee -- it's nearly impossible, they claim -- they have devised a name-your-price service called cAgent, which allows members to specify the price they would be willing to pay, and then searches the full airfare inventory, looking for a price below the target.
"Based on our 20 years in the business, we also think we've built a Priceline killer by eliminating the blind buying that consumers hate. . . Members can see the full itinerary, ticket price and carrier before they buy," Jafri says. Once it's been found, a hold is placed on the reservation and members have 24 hours to book, defer or decline the purchase. You can also search hotels and cars as well. The caveat? It's only available for international travel, and cAgent is still in the beta phase.
A quick and completely unscientific search comparing cFares and meta searcher Mobissimo (www.mobissimo.com) revealed each did similar jobs finding a fare for a flight from Newark to Dublin in early April, departing and returning on a weekday. cFares' cheapest ticket was $459.91 round-trip available via Onetravel.com for a JFK to London to Dublin route, while Mobissimo spat out a $566 fare leaving from first-choice Newark via Frankfurt to Dublin. The first result that included Newark as found on cFares came in under Mobissimo's find at $479.50 -- but, it involved an unnecessarily circuitous route: Newark to Washington, D.C. to London to Dublin, adding an extra leg onto the flight.
Comparison searches for a flight from New York area airports to Rome in late May found cFares returning it's lowest fare at $694 for a direct flight. Mobissimo returned a lower fare of $616.42, also on a direct flight. "Platinum" fares on each search of cFares came in at $50 less than the regular result. Our verdict? Add it to your arsenal of search tools, but as always, compare between multiple search engines and individual carriers' sites.
The company says it gets its information from wholesalers and consolidators that most travel websites don't; sites like Expedia and Travelocity both use the Global Distribution Systems, which is accessed by all travel search sites and agencies. Because of time constraints, at press time, my request for a $320 flight round-trip from Newark to Dublin had not been met once I clicked on cAgent, so unfortunately the unscientific research is at best inconclusive.
A Site to Find the Shortest Route
DoHop (tel. 33/4-93-36-34-34; www.dohop.com; e-mail: email@example.com) based in Reykjavik, aims to search over 660 airlines around the world. Born out of frustration, and tired of wasting time looking for travel deals, the site was formed by a group of Icelandic executives in 2004, who launched the portal last year. Anyone can use it -- it's free and no membership is required -- so there's no virtual red tape here. You can, however, create a user profile so that information such as home airport, currency, and country of residence can be stored and you can receive news from the company. The idea behind DoHop is to be more comprehensive and save time -- if you're looking for a deal to somewhere that's not in the say, top ten international cities or other frequently traveled-to destinations, you're hard pressed to find a cheaper flight using most major travel search engines. "DoHop's primary goal is to help people find time saving flight routes and the results are initially ranked by travel time," says general manager Frosti Sigurjonsson.
Indeed, you can find the fastest route, the latest price and links to airlines and travel agents from the site. In December, the site brought together the capability to search low-cost and traditional airlines, and offer flight combinations if necessary. And just last month, they launched over 6,000 pages of information on cities, airlines, airports, and countries. You don't book directly through the site; instead, it gives you links to other web sites for airlines, etc. DoHop also enables you to search current travel deals, and sort your results, and prices include what they term "all known booking fees." You can filter by either departure or destination country or state, and look for deals that way: U.S., Mexico, Europe, Caribbean, Florida, Hawaii, the United Kingdom and "worldwide" are possible terms. A typical search allows you to filter your results by time, stops, airlines, airports, and even aircraft type. Right now, you can't filter your results by price because the company has only received that information from half of the airlines. "As more airlines get connected, we will be able to sort results by price," says Sigurjonsson.
Because most of the users right now are from Europe, the bulk of the carriers are small, low-cost and from Europe. This is potentially a boon for U.S. travelers interested in saving money but who most likely wouldn't know where or how to search for such deals beyond using the most common, popular travel search engines available here.
Sidekicks for Hire
Pivots and Wings (tel. 646/290-6911; www.pivotsandwings.com), named for socially-conscious women and men who have great people skills, was inspired by the film Hitch and the now-infamous book The Game. The company name stems from a situation in which one guy commonly employs another male friend as a wingman in a social situation (such as a bar) to start the conversation going with a woman of interest. Pivots, then, are wing-women who are used in social settings to increase the status of a guy who's interested in picking up a woman. With the slogan "amplify your social experience" the site launched in February to get people connected and expand their social circles -- pivots and wings act kind of like professional ice breakers. You can request a pivot or wing, essentially hiring them for three to five hours (at $75/hour) for myriad situations: click on "dating advice" "going out" "style advice" and then answer a bunch of questions that will help the company determine what sort of pivot or wing to set you up with to help you become more at ease in social situations, improve your sense of style, or kick up your dating game. After all, their website says "pivots and wings: Play the game!"
Of potential interest to travelers, however, is the company's catering to tourists. Visitors can get connected to a local pivot (or wing) who likes to share local knowledge of the scene. You can hire what basically amounts to your own personal, quirky tour guide to take you around either New York or Boston. According to Daniel Katzman, company founder, other cities are under consideration for inclusion within the year but they're not ready to announce the expansion plan yet. If you're traveling to a city where you know not a soul, solo or not, and you're looking for a good time, Pivots and Wings seems like an interesting, though not exactly inexpensive, investment.
Kayak (tel. 203/899-3100; www.kayak.com) was created by co-founders of Expedia, Orbitz and Travelocity and launched in February 2005 as a comprehensive site that allows you to comparison shop during travel planning. Their tagline is "search with us, book with them;" the meta-search engine trolls for travel deals offered by over 100 sites. Recently, Kayak became the first site to combine user content with fare availability searches with a function called "Trip Ideas," the first part of what CMO Dean Harris calls "Kayak Alive," visitors to the site can create and share trip ideas -- an idea that's not too dissimilar from sharing your Amazon purchase history or your Netflix list with fellow cinephiles -- and then search for related content. You'll fill out a form with a trip idea name, category, and a list of three or more destinations. Click on the "fare buzz" tab and search by categories -- fishing, beach, arts/culture, skiing, hiking -- and lists of aggregated trip ideas appear. Kayak also includes a collection of articles from a number of other travel websites, as well as user suggestions. If you get inspired, at the top of the page there's a place to search for airfare of the destination you're examining.
Also new in the world of Kayak is the capacity to book one-way rental cars. And although it's not an entirely intuitive process -- it takes a little futzing and clicking -- you can now also register your itinerary for a fare alert, once you've signed up and created a user account (which is free). To do so, once you've done your search, look under "also on kayak" and click on "fare buzz." Then, click on "track fares for this trip ideas."
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