‘Tis the season to be booking your travel late in the game. The holidays and CES are right around the corner. If you are like me, somehow time has gotten the best of you and it is time to buy your tickets. For the last few days (weeks, to be completely honest) I have been feverishly searching for the best prices for flights out to CES. Yesterday we highlighted the Southwest Airlines app for Android. Today I am going to take a deeper look at a number of applications to help all travelers book flights via their phones.
Reservations made easy. Two apps offer hotel, flight, and car reservations, one offers flights and car, and the last offers only flights. I have spent a good deal of time with most of these and have had varying degrees of success with their prices but they all offer a great set of tools if you are in charge of your own itinerary. I’m going to start with the two full featured apps. They are huge names in the industry and need no real introduction: Kayak and Orbitz.
Kayak: Kayak is currently the world’s largest travel search site. It began in 2004 and unlike the other sites, purchases are not made through them. They search through hundreds of sites to find the best fares. The home screen is uncluttered and easy to navigate, offering the options to book hotels, flights, and car rentals. There are sections for airport directories, flight status, fees, trip, and buzz. There is a widget that allows you to track your flights and set price alerts.
Flight and Hotel Search – Searching for a flight is quite easy. Just like most travel booking sites you choose between round-trip, one way, and sometimes even multi-city. Next, you choose your departure and arrival locations, then dates of travel, and last what class you prefer, number of passengers, and whether or not you would like non-stop. Kayak offers the ability to search for nearby airports, increasing the likelihood that a better fare might be found. Hotel search is just as easy and follows the typical formula. Flight search results can be filtered by cost, length of flight, and soonest departure. There is also the option to choose the number of stops, name of airlines and airports, the time, or price. For hotels the categories are Featured, Cheap, Close, Classy, you can decide the price range, how many stars it must have, choose which brands are shown, or choose by name. Kayak allows you all the tools to truly customize your booking options. When it comes time to booking, you are given the option (for most reservations) of either calling the vendor or visiting their website to purchase. It is somewhat frustrating to have to take those actions, but Kayak does not sell you tickets so there is no avoiding it.
Additional tools -
- Airport Services directory – basically this tells you where you can find almost anything in 116 airports around the world. It doesn’t have a map but it tells you exactly in what part of the concourse or terminal everything is located. It is a nice addition and could really be a godsend when you are traveling with your kids and they absolutely need a children’s book for YOUR sanity.
- Flight Status – allows you to check the status of your flight. It is even possible for you to set up a widget tracking flights that come in and out of your airport.
- Fees – Breaks down the airline fees for baggage
- Trips – Itinerary list for any upcoming trips that you might have. It is quite easy to merge this from your ticket reservation email
- Buzz – This allows you to watch the trends in ticket prices for your specific travel route. If there is a decent amount of time left until you must travel, set up some alerts and when that great price you were hoping for drops, you will know.
Orbitz – Orbitz was created in 1999 when five airlines came together to modernize booking travel. The Orbitz website launched in 2001 bringing a one-stop location to find pricing on air travel. Today they are one of the leading travel sites with hundreds of airlines, over 80,000 hotels, and over 15 car rental brands in their inventory. You have most certainly seen their commercials with the hovercraft, now it’s time to see their app.
Flight and Hotel Search – Flight search on Orbitz is much less specific than on Kayak. The options are round=trip or one-way, city (from and to), departure and arrival dates and times. It also asks you the number of passengers, cabin choice, preferred airline, and if you prefer non-stop flights. Hotel search is extremely simple, only asking for the city, date arriving and departing, number of guests and rooms. There is also the option to specify the hotel. Although it is quite simple, there is a beauty in the system that Orbitz has designed here.
Additional Tools -
- My Trips – Self-explanatory, any trips that you have booked via the Orbitz website or their Android app comes up with all the information that you will need.
- Flight Status – Easy flight status check. You choose the airline, flight number, and date (today, tomorrow, yesterday).
Southwest Airlines: Southwest operates more than 3,200 flights a day coast-to-coast, making it the largest U.S. carrier based on domestic passengers carried as of March 31, 2010. In June 2010, southwest.com was the 6th largest travel site and largest airline site in terms of unique visitors (source: Comscore MediaMetrix). Nielsen/Netratings also reported that southwest.com was the largest airline site in terms of unique visitors. *Southwest was the first airline to establish a home page on the Internet. Initially, five employees comprised Southwest’s web site development team, and the site took about nine months to create.* Well, now Southwest is the first major airline (in the United States) to launch i’s own Android app as well.
Flight Search – Instead of offering a hotel search, Southwest only offers car and air reservations. The search set up is slightly different here as Southwest decided to use a more graphic layout. Instead of typing in destinations you actually have to scroll through the system. It works for this application as Southwest only services 69 cities in 35 states. Just as all the other apps searching for reservations includes the airports, times, passenger type, and number of passengers. If you have a promotional code you can place it directly above the search button. Southwest offers 3 different fare types when searching: Business Select, Anytime, and Wanna Get Away. Instead of getting a total amount for the round-trip ticket, you must choose each leg of your trip. It is a bit of a hassle but it does give you some extra options in terms of choosing exactly when you want to leave and how much you want to pay.
Additional Tools -
- Flight Check-In – Self-explanatory
- Add EarlyBird Check-In – This allows you to do the EarlyBird Check-in, $10 one-way but lets you get better seat selection and earlier access to overhead compartments.
- Change Air – Allows you to change your tickets if you purchased an Anytime ticket (and Business Select as well, I believe).
OnTheFly – OnTheFly is a product of ITA Software. From their website, “Founded in the mid-nineties by MIT computer science graduates, ITA Software has pioneered a new generation of travel technology. Our world-class engineers and travel industry experts are solving the industry’s most complex computing challenges, and in doing so reshaping its very foundations. Today, ITA Software is used by some of the world’s most successful travel companies, including American Airlines, Southwest Airlines, United Airlines, Continental Airlines, Bing, Kayak, and Orbitz. To its customers ITA is a partner in innovation, helping them slash costs, simplify their business, and improve customer service. You might not be aware of ITA, but if you think back to July, there was this huge uproar over Google signing an agreement to acquire a Travel Search company. Well, ITA Software is that company. In late October OnTheFly was launched for Android.
Flight Search – OnTheFly offers the standard search fields, round-trip or one-way, dates and passenger numbers. When you select the city, that is where everything changes. Instead of just one city, five options immediately come up. In the bottom left there is the option to show more airports, in the case of Philadelphia that brings up a grand total of 23 suggestions. If you choose the ‘more options’ button while you are searching, another set of impressive options pop up: Allow multi-airline flights, allow airport changes, and check seat availability. I downloaded this app the day it was released. I’ve tested it more thoroughly than any of the others, mainly because it has managed to identify amazing international rates. It also has some other nice little features after you have completed your search you can see the flight information, fare costs, miles, and even the emissions.
Additional Tools -
- City Search – City search allows you to choose up to 3 airports at once. If you choose more options, a list of anywhere between 10 and 20 additional cities are suggested – with the distance between both cities
- Stops – Choice of nonstop, one, two, or no limit
- Allow multi-airline flights
- Allow airport changes
- Checking seat availability
- Fare Breakdown – Passenger type, Booking code, US Transportation Tax, the Sept 11th fee, and all other means of information about the costs.
- Miles – Includes the type of aircraft you will be flying in.
- Emissions breakdown per passenger per leg of flight (example: Newark to Cincinnati Canadair Reg. Jet will have 390 lbs of CO2 emissions, per passenger)
Pros and Cons:
Good – Attractive UI, many reservation options, great additional tools, fast, very useful widgets.
Bad – Must leave the application to book travel either online or by phone. Results pages for hotels lack the polish that rest of app has.
Good – Great Hotel pages, ability to purchase from the app, My Trips is a great feature.
Bad – Can take a long time to search, graphics look out of focus much of the time.
Good – Beautiful and simple layout, very responsive.
Bad – Somewhat convoluted process to book flights, cannot see the total for the combined flights.
Good – Huge number of options to find the best fare, fast loading, No wasted time with splash screens, the BEST tool for finding international flights at reasonable pricing, great additional information.
Bad – You must call the airline or travel agent to book, limited to only airline reservations.
I think the app that impressed me the most was OnTheFly. Instead of wasting time with a splash screen and logo, ITA Software got right to the point. It was by far the fastest to return my searches. It might have been missing hotel and car rentals but I don’t usually look for either of those. My second favorite has to be Kayak. I’ve had that on my phone for a long time and it has been my go-to site for many years. Kayak was still very responsive and was mostly pleasing to the eyes. I enjoy the little extras that they added such as the widget for the ticket price and flight status alerts. Unfortunately the last two are tied. Southwest has created a very nice app that does a great job yet the fact that it is limited to only Southwest makes it only marginally useful to me. With the ability to purchase tickets, book hotel rooms, and do one stop shopping, Orbitz should have taken second place. It was often very slow to load and with the fuzzy graphics I could not really bring myself to use that as my primary source of travel arrangements. I think it would be rather simple to fix the Orbitz app. Some optimizations to its sync, as well as upgraded quality of the visual aspects, and OnTheFly might have a fight on its hands.