In­spir­ing an­noy­ance

The Washington Post Sunday - - TRAVEL - BY CAROL SOT­TILI travel@wash­post.com

Cheapflight.com’s re­cently launched “Be In­spired” search en­gine is billed as a new spin on travel deal searches. When CEO Christo­pher Cuddy said in an in­ter­view, “Here we are in 2011, and it’s still in­cred­i­bly dif­fi­cult, in English lan­guage terms, to plan a trip. Our in­ten­tion is to make it as sim­ple as a con­ver­sa­tion,” we yelled, “ Yes!”

The idea is bril­liant in its sim­plic­ity. All a trav­eler has to do is to plug in two pa­ram­e­ters — de­par­ture city and a time­frame of ei­ther 30, 60 or 90 days — and the search en­gine comes up with the best flight deals to desti­na­tions world­wide, of­fered by an im­pres­sive ar­ray of ven­dors, in­clud­ing Price­line, Hotwire and Vayama. The search can be re­fined to beaches, city break, fam­ily, ad­ven­ture and ski & snow. And fur­ther re­fined to in­di­cate de­sired des­ti­na­tion tem­per­a­tures, con­ti­nent and/or bud­get.

The con­cept is def­i­nitely a win­ner. But the re­al­ity? Not so much, mostly be­cause the flight choices are some­times in­con­ve­nient, and the top choices in desti­na­tions are of­ten out­right strange. Asked for the best deal from Washington to any beach des­ti­na­tion, it came up with flights on Amer­i­can via Cheapflight.com for $409 round trip, but the flight to Aruba made two stops and would take nearly 12 hours. Asked for the best ski & snow deal out of both Washington and Bal­ti­more (Rea­gan Na­tional and Washington Dulles are in one group, but BWIMar­shall has to be re­quested sep­a­rately), and it sent us to Syra­cuse, N.Y., not ex­actly a cen­ter of the ski-re­sort uni­verse. Asked to find a city break fromWash­ing­ton, its first pick was Beirut.

Per­haps the sys­tem has bit­ten off more than it can chew. Or maybe it just needs to work out some kinks. The idea of a search en­gine that finds the best fares with­out hav­ing to pick a des­ti­na­tion is great. But we’d rather go ski­ing in Salt Lake City than Syra­cuse, see a show in New York in­stead of Beirut and pay a lit­tle more to get to Aruba in half the time.

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