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I was looking at this: https://flightfox.com/contest/57321

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And I checked the dates on Momondo, and it cost around $1400. (I only checked one set of dates though)

The searcher expressed that they'd pay more for a cheaper flight. Still, the cheapest the experts found was cheaper and faster than what I found on Momondo. As a matter of fact, they found it for $636!

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This surprised me quite a bit, and it made me wonder: What factors make these flights so much cheaper than "standard" flights? and are there any flights it wouldn't be worth it to use FlightFox to find, where Momondo etc. would be equally good?

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Flying 34h20m? Really? –  gerrit Mar 31 '13 at 12:32
    
It's the total of both ways I'm pretty sure. 17:10 each way –  DarkLightA Mar 31 '13 at 12:35
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Pay $24-$50 for an expert to look at your flight plans and find the most optimal solution. Mark Mayo is one of them. –  DarkLightA Mar 31 '13 at 13:59
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I'm pretty sure it's 34 hours in total, which is actually very fast. The dates were changed, so I guess they have to reevaluate –  DarkLightA Mar 31 '13 at 16:00
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The flying and waiting times are totals for the whole trip. We know this is a little confusing and we're looking to hire a designer asap to help us display everything clearer. –  flmyngo Mar 31 '13 at 16:12

3 Answers 3

up vote 13 down vote accepted

As one of the 'experts' on Flightfox, I'm amazed at how good some of the others are. I've been hired on many contests now, but still lose out to people with unbelievable skills at it.

Personally, I use some of the following general guidelines:

  • certain flight sites are better for different areas - Oceania, Europe, North America etc
  • I have a few 'ultra-special' sites - eg one for NZ-Aus specials that I have for bargain flights
  • time. Often just grinding through various websites will help out
  • use of matrix.itasoftware.com helps a lot at times, although not for actually booking

And while we're on the matter, if anyone is thinking of using the site, the referral link in my profile on this site will give you a discount. It's no risk - I've had one where experts haven't beaten my price, and happily got a refund.

I've also met Lauren and Todd in person and am a huge fan of the site :)

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Same here where experts didnt beat my price and got refunded. –  greg121 Apr 1 '13 at 8:24
    
matrix.itasoftware.com looks nice, though it seems to be of limited use in Europe: no Ryanair flights –  feklee Apr 1 '13 at 10:13
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A little question for you Mark: You mention the refund policy. What happens if you pay $34 and get a trip price that's $5 lower than what you found. Is that eligible for a refund or is it only if there aren't any that are lower than the one you found at all? –  DarkLightA Apr 3 '13 at 18:06
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I wonder: Is it possible that some agents are cheating in that they post prices without taxes / fees? Unfortunately, the end result is not publicly visible, not even to competing experts. –  feklee May 7 '13 at 13:03
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Nope, Flightfox staff crack down on that, experts get warned if they leave out taxes or baggage costs, for example. –  Mark Mayo May 8 '13 at 2:47

Lauren (co-founder of Flightfox) here. I can't tell you exactly what's going on in this contest but I can give you a general answer.

Our experts come from many walks of life. Some are travel agents who really know their way around fare rules and ticketing. Some are frequent flyers who have learned from experience. And others are just pure travel hackers who keep abreast of all the deals and technology.

That said, the purpose of Flightfox isn't to beat any particular price. Instead, we give the average person a chance to work "with" experts (not against them) to find the best flights. So our specialities are international and multi-city trips instead of short and/or domestic.

In the example above, which is a relatively simple trip, I suspect the experts were able to cover more airlines and routes by using the right tools. In general, humans clearly can't search quicker than an algorithm, but they can use the right tools with their own knowledge more efficiently. So maybe in this case the experts used low cost airlines, or routed through cheaper airports, or joined flights that the algorithms don't pair together.

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Thanks for your answer. The world certainly is small, haha! I understand you well, but I'm going to leave the question open in case some experts want give more specific information about sources. –  DarkLightA Mar 31 '13 at 16:28

The fundamental reason is that airline pricing is just plain ridiculous. Finding the cheapest flights should be a trivial problem that you could assign as homework on an algorithms class. Instead, the airlines insist on having so complicated set of rules and fares that it's logically impossible to have an algorithm that always finds the cheapest flights. In fact, it's logically impossible to even have an algorithm that can always determine correctly, whether it's possible to sell flights from city A to city B on a single ticket.

Or at least that's how it was 10 years ago. There was a nice article in SIAM News, which should be at least partially accessible to people without a mathematical background.

Because of the complexity, even the most sophisticated search engines search only for relatively simple flight combinations. As a consequence, if you travel often enough, you quickly start to learn the strengths and the weaknesses of different search engines on the kinds of routes you fly. With this kind of knowledge, you'll eventually be able to beat any single search engine most of the time.

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The problem is also that - at least in Europe - you often don't only have to look for planes, but also for trains and possibly buses, to get from/to your origin/destination. The first search engine that combines all of these means of transportation will be a big win! –  feklee Apr 1 '13 at 11:15

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