Our next trip is on the cards and there was a time last year that the wonderful folks at Flightfox had given me the chance to review them. Unfortunately, by the time I had written the review, they had made some core changes to their product which meant that my experience would’ve been different from the one that users could then expect. Thus the review was never published.
What’s Flightfox ?
Flightfox is a very interesting service where flight booking experts compete to get you the best prices. You basically describe your itinerary and then they scope out the best deals for you figuring in transit, connections, and all those other pesky issues. They can even optimize your trip for maximum mileage accrual!
So this time, I’ve decided to do a flightfox review in realtime (and I paid through my own pocket). Our next trip is going to be to the United States and a short trip to Chile in the middle of that. Keeping this in mind, I’ve launched a Flightfox contest and paid for the premium band: $49 (the cheapest band is $39). Remember, the idea of paying for a contest is that the experts there will be able to save you way more by making creative flight programs. If you pay more, you’ll have more experts competing to get you the best prices. There’s a diamond option that starts at $59 and also lets you specify an arbitrary amount (say $100).
The itinerary I chalked out for them was:
New Delhi -> Las Vegas (around April 15th)
Dallas -> Santiago de Chile (around the 1st or 2nd week of May)
Santiago -> Atlanta (10-12 days after arrival)
Anywhere near Atlanta -> New Delhi (1st or 2nd week of June)
I also laid down other restrictions since I hold an Indian passport (no transit through Europe), as I don’t have the requisite transit visas for many places.
These were my exact instructions to the flight experts:
The competition will run for 48 hours. I will update this post as itineraries come in. I’ll also review each itinerary. You can view the contest I’ve posted on flightfox.
After about an hour of posting the contest an expert asked me for info.
Could you let us know which cities in the USA you’re interested in visiting? Might help us narrow things down.
I replied to him saying that I can work out the itinerary according to the flight plan. Let’s see what they get back to us with!
So after another few hours flightfox experts dug into my VISA status.
They advised me that I can indeed transit through both London and Frankfurt/Munich due to my US Visa status. Great stuff!
Indian nationals can Transit without Visa via FRA or MUC if holding a valid visa for the destination and a valid Visa for any of the following countries
Bulgaria, Canada, Cyprus, Ireland, Japan, Liechtenstein, Romania, UK and USA (the approval notice I-797 is not valid document for visa free airport transit).
That’s pretty cool! Great to have more options to work with. Looking forward to some itineraries coming from the folks at Flightfox.
So I received my first flight plan around 22 hours after posting my contest. Not bad at $2,548 per person. The itinerary pretty much matches what I had specified.
I gave the expert some feedback saying that maybe a journey north from Atlanta to NYC may be fun. Also, since that would turn the journey into a return DEL->JFK->DEL we may be able to optimize the flight even further. Let’s see what he says.
25 hours to go for the contest to end. Looking forward to the other experts’ responses.
Got some more itineraries, the prices are going lower now! One of the itineraries included DEL->LAX->DEL for just $1099 per person. Pretty great price I must say!
I’m asking the experts to see if we can further optimize these itineraries. They seem to be very knowledgeable and also responsive.
Every time that you receive an itinerary you’re supposed to rate it so that the expert knows what you think about it and what factors may be improved. I’m not quite sure what the Hire button does, maybe I should take it for a spin ?
22 hours to go until the contest closes. Let’s see how far the prices can go down now. Just for illustration, the cheapest DEL->LAX->DEL flight I could locate earlier was $1355 or so. $1099 is quite an improvement over that!
Right, so STAY AWAY from that Hire button. What it essentially says (paraphrased):
“Click here to HIRE this expert so that you can work more closely with them to optimize your itinerary. You’ll also be able to access booking info to book your itinerary. Don’t worry, you can switch experts later if you want”.
What it REALLY does:
“Click here to END your contest – prematurely – with 22 hours left in it. Now you can choose ONLY between the experts who have replied to your contest. Never mind that it was just two experts.”
Basically, experts give you booking info like “Go to orbitz.com and search for so and so thing.. to book your flight” – that stuff is hidden until you click Hire. I didn’t really need to see the booking info right now. I wanted to wait for more experts to respond to my contest.
Feeling a bit bad now because I had 2 experts responding to my contest and the guy I “hired” – his itinerary was over priced on Orbitz. So I switched to the other expert. Now I’m working closely with him to optimize my itinerary but I think I won’t be attracting any more experts to my contest which still had 22 hours to go.
Oh well, let’s continue working with what we have and see where this takes us.
So I tweeted out my disappointment at the Hire button and less than 30 minutes later Lauren showed up in the comments here, on twitter, as well as on the internal flightfox interface saying that she’ll make this right. Lauren is one of the co-founders of flightfox and she seems pretty dedicated considering it’s Saturday – that’s always a good thing :) They’ve offered to reopen our contest and you can read what she said in the comments below. (you can even ask her about flightfox if you like!)
In the meantime I was working with Tony, one of the flight experts who really is amazing at what he does! I mentioned that $1099 is a great price for the DEL->LAX->DEL leg and that we should focus on optimizing the Santiago leg of the trip.
A few messages back and forth and he figured out how to get the price of that leg down from $1070.55 to $990.55. He also gave me an option to shave off another $50 or so.
So far, the best itinerary I’ve gotten is $2090 (with an option to bring it down by another $50 – I’d just have to be more flexible). The cost per mile flown on this trip is already ridiculously low!
My contest is yet to be re-opened but so far the experts have really been expert at what they do. I even had trouble finding the right itinerary on AA.com and Tony helped me find an alternative at expedia. He even mentioned that he uses some pro flight inventory tools and stuff. I believe him!
Let’s see what happens next. I’ll update you once there’s some more activity!
Lauren has re-opened our contest so new experts can jump in if they dare! (the prices are already pretty competitive now..)
It’s 4am here in New Delhi so I’m going to get some sleep. More updates when I wake up! Stay tuned!
So we have some more itineraries from another expert. This time flying into the west coast but leaving from the east coast. Interesting! The prices have come down to $1,963 in total.
However, this itinerary won’t take me to Las Vegas so that’d be a shame because we definitely have to go there!
So another 10 or so hours to go. Let’s see who else jumps in to compete!
A proud moment for me! I’ve just managed to beat the flight experts’ prices! I decided to head to the ITA Matrix and do some searching myself. Managed to find DEL->LAX->DEL for $1077! (the previous best price was $1,099).
I’ve posted a comment saying this, let’s see if the flight experts can beat my price.
Maybe I should look into a career as a flight expert ? :D
Another 10 hours to go until the contest ends. This has already gone pretty well considering that my cheapest flight to the US earlier was $1355 or so!
The final update:
So the contest finished with a few new submissions, mostly along the same lines. I decided to pick Tony A. as my flight expert (you do this by clicking Hire). What happens is that now you have three days to work with your flight expert to book your flight and optimize your itinerary.
However, with time, it became more clear why you may want to end your contest soon and get booking! The best flight we found was for $1077 per person, however, by the time the contest ended, the best fare class available is now $1173. Almost $100 more expensive!
Tony A. took a lot of effort to explain to me in great detail how fare classes work in economy and how I missed the window for one of the fare classes. Bummer! So next time, if you find a price that looks too good to be true, get it right then ;)
So, is it worth it ?
It was great fun doing this review and I have to say, it gave me a pretty good rush when flight experts found way better prices than I ever expected! Just as a note, the cheapest flight I could find before the contest:
DEL -> LAX (return) – $1,355
USA->CHILE->USA (return) – $1,100
The flight experts managed to find me flights at:
DEL -> LAX (return) – $1,173
USA->CHILE->USA (return) -> $909
at a rate of $373/person
The flightfox fee I paid was $49. In view of this, it seems to be really worth it. Not only that, but Tony also offered me advice on how best to use the miles I earn, as well as some great advice on budget flights within the US (Spirit Air and Virgin America).
For any itinerary that involves more than just a simple return ticket, it’s definitely worth looking into. Their flight experts are very good at finding the best way to organize a complex itinerary and at routing flights appropriately. If you’re flexible on your schedule and are looking for a great deal, flightfox may be just the right place for you.
My experience with Flightfox was pretty great. A total of 4 experts submitted 7 different itineraries that I could choose from. They were very responsive and also the folks at flightfox have been great (this review is NOT sponsored, as mentioned earlier, I paid the flightfox fee myself).
If you’d still rather book your own flights, I had written an article earlier on how to find the best flight deals. I picked up a few neat tricks from the flight experts during this contest so I’ll be updating that article soon as well!
For a more complex itinerary, Flightfox is definitely recommended! It’s a great way to take the trouble out of your itinerary and get the best prices at the same time. They charge $25+ but they do it because they end up saving you some money. Works for me!