New travel site offers more than cheap airfares
You thought you got a good deal when you booked that $200 flight from New York to Fort Lauderdale after scouring various websites to find the lowest fare. But after suffering through a long delay, a cramped flight on an old plane, and the airline's losing your bags, that flight may not have felt like a bargain, after all.
Most travel sites, like Expedia and Kayak, do a good job of digging up the cheapest airfare for a given route, often giving you dozens of options. But when it comes to key factors that can help determine whether a flight is worth the money or is one to avoid - like how much legroom you get, a flight's on-time performance, and mishandled luggage rates - travel sites tend to fall short.
In fact, satisfaction with online travel agencies fell 1.3 percent for the second year in a row, according to the University of Michigan's American Customer Satisfaction Index, released in February.
Enter InsideTrip.com, a new travel site that debuted recently. Headed up by Dave Pelter, a 17-year veteran of the travel industry who most recently had a hand in inventive sites like Farecast.com and Yapta.com, InsideTrip.com, which is undergoing testing, promises to take airfare searches to a new level.
For each search, InsideTrip provides not just fares but also evaluations of what Pelter calls 12 "pain points." These include the amount of legroom in a cabin, how often the flight is on time, the aircraft type (larger jets get higher ratings), how crowded a specific flight typically is, and if you can walk to your connection. It even considers how long it usually takes to get through the security checkpoint nearest the gate.
Each flight is given an overall trip quality rating, which is displayed on the right side of the search results as a score out of 100. There are also Consumer Reports-style symbols rating speed, comfort, and ease in five levels, from poor to excellent.
For example, a recent test search on InsideTrip.com for round-trip flights from New York to Denver pulled up a list by price. The cheapest option - a $310 flight on American Airlines that took more than six hours each way, including a change of planes in the massive Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport - had a trip quality score of 62. Speed and comfort were rated "very good," and ease of travel as "good."
The top pick, highlighted by a purple flowerlike symbol, was a nonstop flight on
Don't care about the average age of the airline's fleet or the lost bags ranking because you always carry yours onboard? Simply uncheck those factors at the top of the page and InsideTrip recalculates the score based on your preferences.
"No other website out there is offering this degree of context," said Henry H. Harteveldt, principal travel analyst at
Yes, most travel sites offer itinerary details, including flight length and connection time. But instead of simply listing the number of stops and flight times, InsideTrip visually displays the length of each trip and highlights any layovers in a bar graphic to help travelers see exactly how convenient - or inconvenient - a flight might be.
Several travel sites have recently made upgrades to help put flights in context of the overall flying experience. Travelocity has been working on color-coding for nonstop (green) flights and connecting (red) flights. It also offers "fare notes" in the margins of search results announcing changes or highlighting particulars of a flight - like United's new fee for a second checked bag or Delta's free curbside check-in - to help travelers make informed decisions.
In a new Traveler Update section, Orbitz provides maps that show flight delays for individual airports, the pace of highway traffic near major airports, and average wait times at airport security checkpoints. And Itasoftware .com has long let travelers view flights graphically to see which ones have stopovers and points out long layovers or tight connections in a "warnings" column.
Travelers already cross-reference airfare searches with information from sites like tsa.gov for security checkpoint wait times and Flightstats.com, which lets travelers compare the timeliness record for particular flights. But InsideTrip is the first site to find a way to pull all this data together and present it in a comprehensive way.
"There are major differences in the travel experience," said Pelter, the founder and chief executive of InsideTrip. "I really just wanted to turn the lights on and let people make a pretty quick and good decision."
InsideTrip pulls its data from a variety of public and private sources, including Transportation Department mishandled-luggage statistics and Transportation Security Administration security checkpoint wait times.
This system is not perfect. For example, for its lost bags ratings, the site uses Transportation Department statistics, which track mishandled bags by carriers, not by individual flights. Another ratings category - aircraft age - is the average for an airline's fleet, rather than for a specific flight. And lost luggage rankings and security wait times aren't available for international flights.
Because InsideTrip uses Orbitz for airline ticketing and customer service, it doesn't include some airlines like Southwest. And since the site is still in test mode, users could experience site shutdowns, slow search times, and other issues as the site works out kinks. For now, it is accessible only using Internet Explorer 7 or Firefox 2.0 and later versions.
Only a few airlines have seen the site. One is Midwest, and Randy Smith, its vice president for sales and distribution, said, "I'm happy to be compared to others and scored, if you will. We'll take that challenge."
But Harteveldt of Forrester Research wondered how many airlines would be happy.
"If you're a company that hasn't invested in new airplanes or your on-time performance is laughable," he said, "your quality scores are going to reflect that." But, he said, "maybe InsideTrip will embarrass them into improving."