x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

App of the Week: Hipmunk micromanages big travel plans

Hipmunk makes complicated travel options accessible on tiny smartphone screens.

Have you noticed lately that time-saving devices are taking up more and more of your time?

It's an irony of our age. At least I think it is (after a half-hour researching the term on Wikipedia, I'm still a bit fuzzy on the whole concept).

Take travel planning, for example. My family's holiday prep used to consist of nothing more than cramming everyone into a 1972 Chevy Nova with a broken air conditioner and heading south for the nearest roller coaster - feral vacations, as I now wistfully refer to them.

But at some point, our excursions got ambitious enough to require travel agents who were supposed to eliminate all the costly, time-consuming headaches.

Then years later, someone told us there was an online travel site that could eliminate all the costly, time-consuming travel agents.

Shortly after that, we found out there were at least 714 such sites. So now, just to compare airfares, we log more hours hunched over a computer than our nephews spend battling orcs in World of Warcraft.

The app

Thankfully, the smartphone app Hipmunk (free, iPhone) offers an elegant and convenient travel-planning solution for those of us who've grown frustrated by all the other elegant and convenient travel-planning solutions.

Trying to find the cheapest Dubai-to-Orlando flight with only one layover via a dozen browser windows is hard enough on a desktop monitor with a 20-inch display - anyone who attempts such a feat on a tiny smartphone screen almost always hops on an express train to dark comedy.

Hipmunk, however, allows you to seemingly bend the rules of web-surfing physics through a series of simple small-screen interfaces that lets you quickly compare various flights based on price, time or carrier.

The details

Once you key in your departure and arrival information, you then choose travel dates by tapping on a full-screen calendar (no annoying pull-down-and-scroll-for-30-seconds menus). A colour-coded grid then appears, which lines up options based on cost (by default). You can also organise the options based on departure time, travel time or "agony", which prioritises choices based on the shortest flight time, fewest layovers and best price.

Hipmunk also keeps track of your last five or so flight searches, so you can retrace your steps while burning as few thumb calories as possible.

Finally, the app directs you to either purchase the ticket on your smartphone's browser via the airline's website (good luck with that), or e-mails you a link so you can finish the ticket-buying process on your computer.

Sadly, in the end Hipmunk throws us back into harsh online-ticket-buying realities, but it at least does a good job streamlining the front-end of the travel-planning process.

For anyone who thinks the whole thing is still too much of a hassle, I know where you can get a 1972 Chevy Nova for a great price.

Have some great personal finance apps that you want to share? Write to Curt Brandao at cbrandao@thenational.ae