For years, European metasearch flight booking engine WhichAirline.com has struggled to gain traction with users, experimenting with interface tweaks like open-date search and marketing strategies like spreading cute infographics around the social web.
GIven that flight metasearch is a crowded market—with Skyscanner, CheapFlights and Momondoleading in Europe—WhichAirline has had to settle for facilitating about 11,000 bookings a year.
Now the Czech startup is hoping that a Hipmunk-style visual flight search interface will catapult it ahead.
Yesterday, the company, which is headquartered in Brno, Czech Republic, officially launched the complete overhaul of its interface.
Now when users search for flights, they see a limited number results (usually between 3 and 10 results) and they must click a button if they want to see more results.
Visual graphs allow users to instantly see which flights are direct and compare flight duration and stopovers for those which are not.
WhichBudget orders results by price to duration ratio.
The company says it include virtually all of the low cost carriers, including Ryanair and Wizz Air.
Noticeably similar interface
We asked WhichAirline for their thoughts on Hipmunk, a startup that popularized graph-based flight search and the concept of only showing a few flights rather than pages and pages of listings of often duplicate and unattractive flights.
We received this response from marketing director Petra Vaškových:
As for Hipmunk - we really like the same idea - to use graphs to find the best flights and use visual interface.
However, Hipmunk seems a bit difficult to understand at first glance according to us - there are too many little graphs and as they are located according to the departure time it is also hard to compare the duration quickly.
At WhichAirline.com you can compare the duration immediately.
We also try to make the choice as easy as possible - so by default you only get the best results (on average, 5-10 depending on route).
Nobody is going to choose a $1,000 flight if there is a $100 alternative. We divide the results into several different groups and by default only show a handful of the best results - it is much easier to choose from those that we preselect for you.
Moreover, we also offer to search for flights without dates. It can be surprising but there are many people that are looking for the list of companies that operate selected route without dates.
In flight details we also show the checked baggage allowance which can be quite handy if you don't know that you have to pay for a checked baggage when travelling with specific airline.
You be the judge
Is Which Airline a re-skin of a concept originated in California? In other words, is it a Czech Hipmunk?
Or is WhichAirline actually solving problems unique to Europe, having studied competitors like Hipmunk to see what had worked for them and what didn't and then adjusting those lessons to its local markets?
The answers to these questions may be in the eye of the beholder. But one thing is certain: Unless WhichBudget funds a marketing campaign or word-of-mouth effort that to promotes their service to new users, none of the changes matter.
It could learn some marketing-related lessons from Hipmunk, which has been quite effective at getting the US tech press talking about it, and has hired a PR pro to help full time.
The California startup is also rumored to have spent loads of money to improve the chances that using search engines for flight information might try their site.
In fact, WhichBudget and Hipmunk both have something in common: Once they get customers in the door to book flights, they each have to find a way to sell them other things which will actually be profitable, because commissions on flights are a low-margin proposition.
In the past six month, Hipmunk has experimented with paid services for businesses and a revamped hotel search tool. (It is focusing on hotels because hotel chains generally offer higher commissions to metasearch companies than airlines do for flights.)
Will WhichAirline learn similar lessons?