April 15, 2013 at 9:40 AM ET
You know the routine: You search a half-dozen websites, find an airfare you like and e-mail it to a travel companion who clicks on the link, only to find the fare has changed or completely disappeared.
It’s enough to make you long for a website that would let you collect all your airfare searches in one place, share them with your friends and get real-time price updates for each itinerary every time you visited the site. In fact, for Stephen Gotlieb, it was enough to inspire the development of Pintrips.com, a new website launching publicly on Monday.
“I was in graduate school and trying to coordinate a trip with my wife,” said Gotlieb, a structural engineer by training. “I was sending her e-mails, cutting and pasting links and trying to communicate over the phone. I had 10 tabs open and the process was just too painful.”
The solution was to create a website and browser plug-in that allows users to select the flights they’re interested in on airline sites, meta-search sites and search engines; “pin” them to a dashboard, and share them with others. Every time the dashboard is accessed, the site automatically updates the results with the current price.
“Each board you create is like its own meta-search site,” said Gotlieb, “but with your own user-generated content.”
To create that content, users input their destination and travel dates and pick from one of 10 search options, including Google, Kayak, Orbitz and seven airline sites. Regardless of the search provider, each itinerary shown also features a “pin” button, which, when clicked, transmits the details back to Pintrips.
For example, during a recent search for a late-June flight from Seattle to Newark, this reporter selected four potential flights, one each on Alaska (via Kayak), Delta (via Google), United (via Orbitz) and Southwest. Revisiting the site over four consecutive days, the results were surprising and occasionally shocking:
A price drop would’ve been nice but at least the bad news didn’t require revisiting each site and initiating a slew of similar searches.
Essentially, the site represents a new twist on meta-search. Instead of getting hundreds of results and filtering out the ones you’re not interested in, Pintrips aggregates only the results you personally select.
“The research we’ve done shows that about one in four airline travelers uses meta-search so there’s a fairly large chunk of the market that’s looking for price comparison,” said Henry Harteveldt, industry analyst with Hudson Crossing. “This gives users more control than they get with some of the meta-search sites we’ve seen to date.”
That said, Pintrips is also a work in progress. It currently works with 10 partner sites, which means it’s possible to miss out on deals on ones it doesn’t work with. (Itineraries from non-partner airlines can, however, still be pinned from aggregator sites.) It also works with Chrome, Safari and Firefox, but not Internet Explorer, although Gotlieb says an IE plug-in is also in the works.
More problematic, perhaps, is that the very thing that makes the site unique — the ability to get real-time updates from multiple sources — makes it prone to decidedly non-dynamic results. Because the site has to go back to its partner sites for each update, changes in inventory or scheduling may mean a previously pinned flight is suddenly disconnected from the underlying data. No data, no update — although the site does allow users to pursue similar itineraries with a single click.
Now, if they’d just come up with a way to pin only those flights that will drop in price, they’d really have something.
Rob Lovitt is a longtime travel writer who still believes the journey is as important as the destination. Follow him on Twitter.