Startup Hipmunk builds innovative flight-search site

There’s no shortage of travel sites on the Web, but I find the experience of searching for flights is still pretty crummy. I have to hold lots of little details in my head as I sort through a bunch of flight listings that are often almost identical.

That’s where a new San Francisco startup called Hipmunk comes in. Cofounder Adam Goldstein says Hipmunk’s goal was to “rethink the interface from scratch,” and I’m quite impressed with the results. Users enter the same query that they would on most other sites — origin, destination, departure date, and return date. But instead of giving you a long list of results, Hipmunk lays the flights out on a grid, where flight time is shown on the horizontal axis and flight price is shown on the vertical axis. That means you can see a lot more flights at once, and if you’re interested in flights in a particular time period or price range, you can focus on them right away.

Hipmunk offers other cool features. It removes some of the clutter from your results by hiding “worse” flights — i.e., flights that are basically the same as another result, but cost more, include more stops, leave earlier in the morning, arrive later at night, and so on. It lets you sort flights by price, number of stops, departure or arrival time, duration, or using a concept called “agony,” which is a combination of price, duration, and number of stops.

The company is being incubated by Y Combinator. It’s also funded by Ron Conway’s SV Angel. Cofounder Steve Huffman already has one popular Y Combinator startup under his belt — social news aggregator Reddit. Goldstein, meanwhile, just graduated from MIT and said he was a frequent traveler as part of the debate team, which led to his frustration with existing flight search services.

Similar to Kayak, Hipmunk doesn’t sell tickets directly and instead directs users to sites where they can purchase flights. For now, it’s limited to tickets sold by Orbitz, but it plans to expand its sources.

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