Sunday, May 26, 2013

A review of the Flightfox website and application

Flightfox is a website which supports crowd-sourced research of airfares and flight connections.  The idea is that, let’s say, you are flying from New York to Phoenix, and the airline quotes you a round trip airfare of $1000.  You think that’s a bit much, but you don’t really have time to research it, so you go on Flightfox and ask for help.  For a fee, which the website says starts at $24, some travel experts will research ways to save you money.  You choose the expert you like best, and work with that person to book your trip.

It sounds like it is a good idea.  I was not happy with the result.

We were planning a trip to take a tour (Rick Steves Adriatic tour) that originates in Ljubljana, Slovenia, and ends two weeks later in Dubrovnik, Croatia.  I found that getting to Ljubljana was not terribly hard.  It takes about 14 hours and you have to make multiple connections, but it looks doable.  But the return, from Dubrovnik to Dallas/Ft. Worth, was really, really difficult.  The only way to get back the same day was to take a departure out of Dubrovnik at 6 AM (although it might be 7 by the time we were going).

The fares ranged from pretty expensive to obscenely expensive.  I contacted American Airlines, hoping to cut the expense by using some miles for part of the trip, and ended up with a quote of over $5000 per person for the round trip.  Using, I found fares in the $1200 to $1300 range, but the return trip from Dubrovnik was in nearly all cases going to require an overnight stay in London or another European city (or, worse, at an airport).  The idea was to come home on Saturday, and go to work on Monday.  The idea was not to come home on Sunday and go to work on Monday.  Nor was the idea to extend two weeks of vacation to two weeks and change.

So, I had just heard about Flightfox on the This Week inTravel podcast, and decided to try it.  (Caution, this website is never current with what they have in iTunes.)  They asked for a hell of a lot more than $24, though.  I went ahead, and described our trip for the experts.  I tried to emphasize that my problem was transit time rather than cost.

The ‘contest’ for my fee ran twenty-four hours.  I received only eight bids from only three contestants. Nobody did any better than I had for myself using or other travel engines.  They all focused on beating the price when I was concerned with the duration of the return trip combined with the extremely early departure required to get home in one day.  We ended up cancelling the Rick Steves tour.  A fourteen day tour is just not feasible for people who are working for a living.  We need to keep it to ten or twelve.

My conclusion is that Flightfox might be okay for someone who is not an experienced traveler, but for someone like me (nearly two million miles on American) it is a waste of time and money.  I could be one of their experts, I suppose.  But I still couldn't get you home from Dubrovnik.

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