Review: Don't leave home without Hipmunk's travel search app for iOS
At a Glance
Hotel & Flight Search
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The iOS App Store boasts more than its fair share of apps capable of helping you track down flight and hotel reservations. Many of them are free and decent enough to get the job done. But Hipmunk Flight & Hotel Search lets you search in style with features that are well suited for both the iPhone and iPad.
This universal iOS app is essentially the mobile version of Hipmunk’s travel website, with a feature set geared to on-the-go searches. Searches for flights are sorted by Hipmunk’s Agony index—which considers the length of the flight, the number of layovers, and the price of tickets—while hotel searches include heat maps that rely on color-coding to show how close your potential lodging would be to things like restaurants, nightlife, and other attractions.
But the mobile version of Hipmunk presents this information in a way that’s tailored to your iOS device. Searching for a flight, for example, is a matter of simply tapping out your departure and arrival cities; instead of fumbling through separate scroll wheel date pickers, you use a single scrollable calendar to select arrival and departure dates. Your flight results appear in a Gantt chart-style display that you can further sort based on price, departure time, and flight length. (iPad users will enjoy the ability to easily filter out flights that depart too early or late just by dragging their finger on the timeline—perfect if you hate red-eyes as much as I do and don’t want those results cluttering up your screen.) Tapping one of the individual bars produces more information about the individual flight, including key tidbits like whether the flight has on-board Wi-Fi or not.
Hotel searches through Hipmunk are similarly intuitive. The app searches for rooms based on your current location by default, making Hipmunk’s mobile offering better suited for finding last-minuted lodgings; switching cities is as simple as tapping the location and typing out a new city. From there, it’s just a matter of tapping in the length of your stay, the number of guests, and how many rooms you need. Hipmunk displays its results on a map of the surrounding area, using color-coded dots for an at-a-glance view of the price range of your would-be accommodations. Turning on heatmaps for food, sights, shopping, and other categories gives more at-a-glance information that, frankly, looks a little busy on the iPhone’s screen, but is much simpler to digest on an iPad. In a neat little feature, you can save up to three different hotels for comparing and contrasting later on.
Once you’ve found a flight or a room you want to book, the app will let you do so via your device’s mobile Safari browser. But entering that data on your iPhone or iPad can be a bit of a pain. Hipmunk recognizes that fact and gives you the option of either emailing yourself a link to the selected flight or hotel room or using a finish.hipmunk.com URL and code to complete the booking once you’re back at a computer with a physical keyboard. It’s a wise acknowledgement by Hipmunk that while your iOS device excels at many things, completing transactions that involve a lot of data entry may not be one of them.
One of Hipmunk’s newer features—and one that vaults it to the head of the class for iOS travel search tools, in my estimation—is its ability to integrate calendars into search results. All you have to do is flip a switch, and Hipmunk taps into the calendar data stored on your iOS device. Search for a flight, and Hipmunk will display appointments you have on its Gantt chart of flight times, so that you can see if your flight conflicts with a can’t-miss meeting. For hotel results, Hipmunk displays where appointments you’ve scheduled are located in relation to your hotel—a really important piece of information that’s helped me plan business travel recently.
You could try any one of a number of free search tools from the likes of Kayak, Expedia, and whatever travel site you care to name. But save yourself the time and jump directly to Hipmunk’s offering for a clean app that really takes advantage of Apple’s mobile operating system.