Travel tool Flight Penguin brings back Hipmunk’s spirit

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In January of 2020, journey search Hipmunk shut down. The closure got here 4 years got here lower than 4 years after it had been acquired by enterprise journey big Concur, itself a part of the much more gigantic SAP. It was certainly one of numerous examples over time of a giant firm shopping for one thing small however modern after which shedding curiosity. However Hipmunk was so nice and helpful that a few of us are nonetheless in morning: Final week, when a good friend requested me for recommendation on journey reserving websites, the primary phrases out of my mouth had been “I used to like Hipmunk, which isn’t any extra.”

The unhealthy information is that Hipmunk stays useless. Nevertheless, a few of its creators are back with a brand new journey tool referred to as Flight Penguin that—although under no circumstances an easy revival of the Hipmunk idea—will definitely enchantment to a number of the people who had been as soon as keen on the ‘munk. Like Hipmunk, it’s obtained a unusual identify, an lovely mascot (drawn, in Hipmunk’s case, by Alexis Ohanian), a clear interface, and a give attention to discovering flights that supply a beautiful worth with out pointless layovers and different problems.

What’s totally different this time round? Effectively, Flight Penguin, surprisingly, isn’t a web site or an app—it’s a Chrome extension. And as an alternative of searching for partnerships with airways and incomes a fee when customers e book a visit, Flight Penguin is opting out of forging such relationships. As a substitute, it’s a for-pay service that may price customers $10 a month, after a 30-day free trial. It’s presently nonetheless in testing and hasn’t absolutely opened as much as the general public, however is letting events add themselves to a waitlist.

Flight Penguin targets individuals who (not less than in non-pandemic occasions) fly between 5 and ten occasions a 12 months.

By charging customers, the corporate hopes to keep away from the scenario—frequent to all types of commerce websites—the place outcomes are influenced by behind-the-scenes enterprise transactions slightly than purely by what’s within the curiosity of the patron. “For those who go on to different journey websites, comparability search websites, you’re not seeing all of the fares they learn about,” says Hipmunk cofounder Adam Goldstein, who left Concur in December 2018 and—melancholy over his creation’s demise—started constructing Flight Penguin after the pandemic began.


Massive journey search engines like google and yahoo, Goldstein says, are “truly hiding flights, as a result of they’re doing offers with airways: ‘For those who conceal flights from third events, then we’ll offer you particular entry to our flights or particular commissions or particular promoting offers or no matter.’” Even Hipmunk wasn’t capable of keep away from getting sucked into this enterprise mannequin, he acknowledges: “We ended up on this scenario the place it was very tough for us to concurrently serve our customers and serve our backside line.”

A penguin, not a unicorn

One other massive distinction between Hipmunk and Flight Penguin is that this time round, these concerned aren’t attempting to construct the kind of sizzling startup that might make anyone wealthy. Goldstein and fellow Hipmunk cofounder (and present Reddit CEO) Steve Huffman are offering seed capital, and Goldstein has been engaged on the challenge as a facet challenge together with engineer Sheri Zara, who can be a Hipmunk alum. They perceive that the universe of people that is perhaps keen to pay for journey search is restricted; Goldstein says they’re focusing on individuals who (not less than in non-pandemic occasions) fly between 5 and ten occasions a 12 months.

[Image: Courtesy of Flight Penguin]

Nonetheless, for a humble Chrome extension, Flight Penguin shouldn’t be quick on ambition. Typical extensions modify any person else’s web site—say by tweaking Gmail’s interface—however Flight Penguin is a full-blown expertise unto itself. Its search fields and outcomes web page are paying homage to Hipmunk, and it’s aggregating flight and costs in a vogue just like what Hipmunk as soon as did and different journey search websites corresponding to Kayak nonetheless do. The primary proof that it’s an extension operating in your laptop slightly than an internet utility is that you just may want to attend a bit longer for outcomes.

However performing searches domestically slightly than within the cloud has its benefits, too. “As a result of it’s all operating on the shopper facet, the information that we’re getting is strictly the identical information that you’d see on the airways’ web sites,” says Goldstein. “There’s no caching the place the flights get old-fashioned as a result of there’s some search that’s being saved for 10 minutes. There’s no API weirdness the place—we noticed this [at Hipmunk]—the airline would present one worth on their web site, however a unique worth via their API, and somebody would click on and the value would go up $70.”

[Image: Courtesy of Flight Penguin]

Back within the day, Hipmunk sorted flights by “agony” by default, with the least agonizing ones—corresponding to lower-priced direct flights—on the high. Flight Penguin makes use of “ache” to explain the identical strategy. That’s our constant philosophy—attempting to make it simple to seek out the best choice, not simply the most cost effective one,” says Goldstein. The brand new service can even present choices involving multiple-airline itineraries—which may lower your expenses—and allows you to search by {dollars} or factors.

In a reference to journey search’s largest identify, the Flight Penguin dwelling web page declares that “it’s time to place Kayak on ice.” However for now, Goldstein, says, his new service isn’t attempting to be a one-stop store. It solely searches for flights—the largest headache for folks researching journey plans, in keeping with Goldstein—and has no fast plans to deal with resorts, rent-a-cars, or different requirements. How about providing Flight Penguin as one thing aside from a Chrome extension? “There could possibly be different variations, however the Chrome extension actually is the know-how that allows quite a lot of these items,” he says.

When Hipmunk died, I used to be ticked off after which simply sad—however quickly thereafter, the world went into lockdown and I spent a 12 months making no journey plans in anyway. Now that flying is lastly beginning to really feel like a risk once more, it might be good to suppose that Flight Penguin has a shot at taking wing.