It’s hip, it flies, and now it speaks: Hipmunk’s Goldstein on how to make buying a plane ticket cool again

It’s been a busy 48 hours since the launch of Hipmunk, the new airline booking site with an impossibly cute name and a slick, critically-acclaimed interface.

Early reviews in Lifehacker and Gadling have praised the new project for its minimalist, intuitive fare display, and the early buzz online — browse the comments on Hipmunk’s Twitter account — is overwhelmingly positive.

I asked Adam Goldstein, Hipmunk’s co-founder, to fill in a few details.

“As someone who spends your time dealing with the annoyances of modern travel, I’m sure you’ve had the infuriating experience of spending hours searching for the right flight on existing travel sites,” he says. “I had that experience my whole time as an undergrad at MIT, which is why when I graduated in June I decided to start a new site for making the experience better.”

What is Hipmunk?

Hipmunk is a website that helps you find the right flight. Unlike other search sites, we display all the interesting results on a single page. We allow you to instantly sort by departure time, price, number of stops, etc. And if you want to restrict the time of day that your flight departs or arrives, we have intuitive, visual sliders that update your results instantly.

Basically, Hipmunk gives you a visual overview of the tradeoffs between flights, so you can find the right one for you within minutes.

What’s with the name?

I was having trouble coming up with a name, and my girlfriend pointed out that if we picked a small cute animal name, we’d have no trouble getting a good logo. She was right! I looked up misspellings of common animal names, and was available, so we went with that.

There are already a lot of airfare booking sites out there. How is Hipmunk different?

Hipmunk is different in two main ways. On one level, we’re different in terms of features, like the ones I described above. But on another level, we’re different in terms of our focus. We want to make it easy to find the right flight quickly. Other sites aren’t nearly so customer-focused — in many cases, they make money the more pages they make you trudge through, since they can show more ads.

The fare display is really neat. How does it work?

The fare display figures out all the relevant factors about a flight — where it stops, how long it is, what airline, etc. — and then displays it appropriately. It also calculates all the different ways flights compare to one another (which one leaves earliest? which one is the least expensive?) so it can instantly sort the results based on your preference. Our default sort, “agony,” is a combined metric of how much a flight will hurt your butt and your wallet — i.e. how much it costs, how long it lasts, and how many stops there are.

Why haven’t we seen something like this before?

Many sites that started innovating in flights have since discovered that the profits are higher in hotels. As a result, they’ve devoted disproportionate resources to solving that problem, and starved flight search of the attention it deserves.

Gotta say, I love the “sort by agony” function. Speaking of agony, how are you dealing with fees on Hipmunk?

Great question. At the moment, we don’t incorporate ancillary fees (checked bag fees, change fees, etc.) into the price. But it’s something we’re thinking very hard about. The trick is going to be incorporating the possibilities into the interface in such a way that it doesn’t clutter or confuse our users.

In terms of booking fees, we don’t add any fees over and above those of Orbitz — which, as it is, doesn’t have booking fees on most flights.

What’s next for you? Have you heard from any of the airlines or booking engines about the project? Any plans to do hotels, cruises, rental cars?

We’ve spoken to a number of airlines since launch, and are looking forward to working with them soon. Hotels and the like are something that’s on our radar, but we don’t have any plans to announce at the moment.

Update (7 a.m.): For a different take on Hipmunk, check out the Tnooz interview that just posted.

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