Hipmunk founders launch Flight Penguin to take on Kayak in metasearch

Air booking [Credit: Rawpixel.com/Shutterstock.com]
In addition to sorting by price or duration, Flight Penguin can sort options by "pain" to help travelers find the best combination of comfort and value. Photo Credit: Rawpixel.com/Shutterstock.com

A little over a year since SAP Concur shuttered metasearch engine Hipmunk, which the company had acquired in 2016, Hipmunk founders Adam Goldstein and Steve Huffman have launched a new venture in the metasearch market.

Called Flight Penguin, the Chrome extension launches today and is billed as a direct competitor to Kayak (the company's website goes so far as to say "It's time to put Kayak on ice").

Flight Penguin differs from Hipmunk in that Flight Penguin is a Chrome extension, not a website, that works from a customer's browser to pull the most up-to-date airfare prices.

Flight Penguin allows customers to visualize their options through a time-bar layout that shows when flights depart and land as well as gaps to indicate layovers.

In addition to sorting by price or duration, Flight Penguin can sort options by "pain" to help travelers find the best combination of comfort and value. The company calls its ad-free results "unbiased and uncorrupted" compared to travel sites that sell customers to the highest bidder.

From Hipmunk to Flight Penguin

Goldstein says he and Huffman were "disappointed" when Hipmunk was shut down, so the two decided to seed-fund a successor.

"We missed Hipmunk and knew there were millions of other people out there who'd used Hipmunk and didn't have an alternative," he says.

Founded in 2010, Hipmunk was heralded by many in media as a "Kayak killer" and the "future of travel search" in its early days, drawing ire from the likes of Kayak co-founder and CEO Steve Hafner, who once called Hipmunk "roadkill."

Goldstein left Hipmunk at the end of 2018, and SAP Concur offered to say little about its decision to retire Hipmunk as well as travel and expense product Concur Hipmunk beyond: "As our approach to providing integrated travel and expense management evolves, we have made the decision to retire Hipmunk and Concur Hipmunk. Concur TripLink with TripIt Pro is the preferred solution for customers who aren't a fit for Concur Travel, an online booking tool."

Goldstein says Kayak is the natural target for Flight Penguin because it's the market leader in the metasearch space.

"More than 10 years after Hipmunk started, Kayak and other sites continue to focus on penny-pinching travelers. We're building [Flight Penguin] for people who value their time as well as their money," he says.

Following a 30-day free trial, customers pay $10 per month for Flight Penguin and can search flights by cash or credit card points, which many travelers have been accumulating during the coronavirus pandemic. The subscription model "allows us to not have to rely on the whims and demands of the entrenched players in the industry," Goldstein says.

"Airlines are an oligopoly in the U.S. and use increasingly aggressive tactics to get sites (including Hipmunk) to do their bidding. Typically these take the form of quid pro quo contracts: If the travel site does various favors for the airline, like hiding third-party fares for that airline's flights, then the airline will give the travel site goodies like commissions, data, ad buys, etc.," he continues.

"The airlines and the travel sites benefit from this coziness, but the customer loses out when they can't see all the options. Often sites know there are lower fares available, but choose not to show them, so as to keep their cozy relationships with airlines. I know it because I used to do it, and I'm not proud of that."

Flight Penguin, Goldstein continues, has adopted a "no collusion" philosophy. "Unlike many other travel sites, we don't do deals that hide information from customers. Period."

Goldstein tapped former Hipmunk engineer Sheri Zada to build Flight Penguin, which will begin taking users off of its waitlist and allowing more waitlist signups tonight. Flight Penguin will roll out to the remaining waitlist over the coming weeks.

Source: PhocusWire


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