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Hangin' with The Hipmunk: What's Next for the Internet's Hot New Travel Booking Site?

June 1, 2011 at 11:20 AM | by | Comment (1)

He's an infographic fiend, our small obsession, and even our Travel Tweet of the Week; yes, he's the Hipmunk. This sprightly little chipmunk is no less than the mascot for the most exciting and fresh travel booking engine out there right now. Hipmunk.com, though less than a year old, has already become our default search site for pricing airfare and hotels, so we sort of crashed their headquarters last week in San Francisco.

If you want to read the tech trend story on how Hipmunk got started, there are plenty out there. The site had momentum from the first, seeing as how its founders—Adam Goldstein, Steve Huffman and Alexis Ohanian—are behind the popular social news sharing website Reddit and well known in their own rights. We could tell you all about that, but instead we're far more interested in things like the fact that they just bought an office couch (it's IKEA, and lime green)! And they're developing hoodies!

Hipmunk is more than a cute name, though it almost didn't even have that. While sitting on the aforementioned new arrival couch, Steve told us that the leading names during first drafts were "TrotMe" or "BouncePounce." Instead it was Adam's girlfriend who came out with the idea to name the site after a cute animal, minus one letter. "We got the domain for under $100, and soon our office manager was hand-making the little stuffed animal mascot," says Adam.

The genius of Hipmunk is so ridiculously simple that we've often wondered why it's taken so long for something like Hipmunk to give a kick in the shin to traditional travel search engines. Just do a basic search on Hipmunk if you haven't already, and you'll see what we mean. The display, the options, the tabbed searches, the heat maps, the lack of pop-ups! In March, Hipmunk expanded into hotel bookings, with "official" star ratings curiously left out of the equation. Why? Adam confesses they're struggling with "the value of an industry star in relation to amenities," preferring to cite Yelp reviews instead. Having stayed at a few less-than-4-star-quality "four star properties" in our time, we totally see where they're coming from.

Now what? Hipmunk has already begun looping in Amtrak train results when users search flights between cities like New York and Boston, but rental cars and vacation packages aren't exactly on the drawing board. Adam hints that Hipmunk hotel promotions are on the horizon, offering those who book with Hipmunk freebies like complimentary WiFi, breakfast, parking, food and beverage credits and the like. Following that? Booking space flights on Hipmunk! At least, that's the hope. And we'd be lying if we said we didn't totally waste like five minutes geeking out with Adam and Steve over the official IATA airport code for Virgin Galactic's Mojave Spaceport (it's MHV).

Our final question? The basic "why should a traveler use Hipmunk versus other travel booking sites?"

Adam Goldstein answered our question with a question: "Do they want to have a nice experience?"

Touché.

Bonus tidbit: Hipmunk is building an online store, so that travelers need not stalk them at SXSW to score cute luggage tags, T-shirts and maybe even hoodies with aviator goggles and chipmunk ears attached.

[Photos: Jaunted]

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After the Ecstasy, The Reviews option is better

I was looking for rooms in Vegas on Hipmunk last week and I loved how it said, "Vegas baby!" on the itinerary. But when I sorted results by the default "ecstasy" options, the properties were kinda random. Like Homewood Suites in Henderson which came up 5th behind some ok downtown options but ahead of Skylofts at MGM Grand. Sorting by reviews was actually the better way to go as several Strip options came up first. I didn't try it for other cities so maybe ecstasy is a better option for other places. Either way, still way more fun than other booking site!

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