Hipmunk, you’re awesome.

I love Hipmunk — it’s one of my favorite tools to use and that’s for doing one of the most painful things about traveling — booking the flights.

What makes Hipmunk so great & awesome?

1. It’s well designed with clear calls to action and attention to detail about the little things

2. Flight plan visualization that allows a user to minimize their agony at a glance

The immediate thing I notice when I load hipmunk.com is there’s also no confusion about what you’re going to do on this website — you’re either looking for flights or hotels (two giant call to actions). All the extra stuff is below the fold (e.g. the popular destinations) and stays way from the main task at hand. When the site finishes loading, I noticed that my input cursor was already in the right place — the “From” box.

Hipmunk homepage — the important stuff is front and center, and extra stuff is below the fold

When one starts typing in a location and destination, that’s when all the rest of the details show up. I hadn’t noticed this before writing the critique, but I think it’s very powerful and allows the user to focus on the initial task before prompting for additional information. The “Flight Search” control even gets larger and helps even further demonstrate that it’s the primary task.

Flight Search Control — Clear call to action with orange as the primary color

Figure 1: Depart & Arrive Options Appear, Search button changes color to denote the primary action

You don’t need to know about the dates, how many people, or what class you’re traveling up front, so why burden the user with asking for that information?

When the time is right though, Hipmunk provides the right UI at the right time. Hipmunk makes it clear what the next action the user needs to take after filling out the information by changing the color of the search button to a bright orange — nothing else on the screen is this color and it’s incredibly powerful in getting the user to the next step. When choosing the date of the flight, a calendar view drops down (there’s nothing I hate more than going through a drop down list searching for travel dates — I usually am trying to figure out what day of the week it is so I can make a weekend trip, etc.).

Calendar control

Once a user clicks on “Search” there’s a loading screen that communicates well with the user about what’s going on (progress bar, string that changes from “searching Frontier…” to “searching foo..”).

The real part that I love about Hipmunk is the flight selection page — they’re organized by “Agony” by default, which really means, minimize layovers and sort by price. It can get complicated for international flights, but for most of the trips I do (up and down the West Coast), it works really well. Each flight is represented by a slice of time, with time spanning from left to right. Each flight is shown on its own row, so one can quickly glance up and down to see a) breadth of flights (how early can I get there, when is the last flight), b) how long layovers are (indicated by shaded gray between legs of an itinerary) and c) if other amenities are offered on the flight (WiFi indicated by a quarter circle of concentric rings).

The process of selecting a flight to book is pretty simple:

1. Select departing flight

2. Select returning flight

3. Choose to book through one of Hipmunk’s partner

At the end of process, they reuse the orange button as the primary call to action and bring the user full circle.

What could Hipmunk do better?

I think that Hipmunk does a really good job overall, but here’s one thing Hipmunk could do better:

  • Improve options for searching multiple dates & switching between adjacent dates for departure/arrival. They have an option to search a flexible set of dates, but the UI is cumbersome since flight visualization in their format doesn’t scale as well to multiple days of searching (imagine a really long X-axis and really tiny flight markers)
  • Southwest does this very well — click a different date tab and you get a sense of how much cheaper it is to fly on a Monday vs. Sunday

Overall

It’s easy to use — it helps one book travel with the right information in mind and does the job well (no ads, no “do you want to add this to your fight?” even though they do hotel searches as well).