Competition for ITA Software? Review of Everbread’s Haystack airfare search engine

I recently posted some videos put out by UK-based Everbread showing a humorous yet accurate description of how Global Distribution Systems came into being and their evolution to present form. Those videos were admittedly a selfless plug for the company’s Haystack airfare search engine, whose underlying technology is marketed as a business-to-business solution with greater efficiencies and processes than that of traditional GDSs. Sounding very reminiscent of ITA Software’s Matrix Airfare Search Tool, I was even more intrigued because it claims to also search off-GDS low cost carrier fares and schedules, something ITA lacks. I signed up for an account and took it for a test drive last night.

I decided to search for a basic roundtrip ticket in a market I knew Southwest Airlines flew along with traditional carriers, so I plugged in Los Angeles to Denver leaving September 16th, returning September 20, 2011:

The expandable options below the basic search fields open up to allow customization for preferred carriers, number of stops, class of service and other “standard” parameters. It also has other selections available for more advanced fine tuning, including the ability to select interline specificity and types of fares (refundable, upgradable, changeable). Wanting to keep it simple, I selected the option to show fare information with the results leaving the other defaults in place, and hit search:

Hmm, where’s Southwest? Anyway, it’s sort of a similar response to what ITA would give and very curious to compare their pricing against ITA’s, I popped over there to get nearly identical results:

The listings returned are in ascending order based on fare and for sake of space, I’m showing the top four below:

You have the ability to further sort and modify the results with a toolbar appearing at left. Included here is the option to filter by alliance (Star, oneworld, etc), airline, virtual interline, stops, flight time and more. First I decided to deselect Frontier Airines and it returned the following result:

Hmm, Frontier remained. It appears that if you keep “multiple airlines” checked, deselecting specific airlines will only chop off itineraries from the results wholly comprised of the deselected carrier. I played around with it for a while, then decided just to leave United checked as the carrier with nonstop flights only. Here were the top three results:

Ugh. Burbank got in there, so it seems they’ve set the logic to include nearby airports (city code logic vs. simply airport code). That definitely could be useful, but I wasn’t expecting it. Deselecting the “airport changes” option didn’t make it go away either. What was more surprising, though, is how few options in total appeared: 24 total combinations and since there are eight nonstops daily in each direction LAX-DEN, it should have returned 64 possible combos. The default search option returns 500 results (max seems to be 1,000), so when I later searched for just United flights on that route, it seemed to pull in the full schedule (plus Burbank).

For now, I decided to move on, make a selection, and was able to reveal class of service and a partial fare breakdown, but no fare basis codes or fare construction detail:

As Haystack isn’t a booking site like ITA, you can only “share” the itinerary you’ve selected by sending it to an email address or to your Google or Outlook calendar. I chose the email route:

Notice the email left off fare details (fare buckets & price breakout)? It does provide a link for the results, but had I forwarded this to my travel agent, for example, the link requires a sign-in back to Haystack. If I provided my login credentials to my travel agent, they would be redirected to the entire screen of results wherein this selection was made. A bit cumbersome, in my opinion.

Let me make it clear that I acknowledge this is a demo version and isn’t intended to be a consumer search engine, but at the same time I was expecting advanced ITA-type functionality and detail. Having the ability to only search for specific dates without being offered “flexible dates,” month-long or “+/- 3 days” for a better fare seems so 1999. Perhaps that’s what they’re developing now and will be part of Haystack 2.0. It didn’t seem to return results quite as fast as ITA, but maybe only by three or four more seconds. Also, I have to throw them a bone and while Southwest Airlines flights & fares didn’t appear, I didn’t try routes with European low cost carriers, their specialty (likely).

I’ll be following their progress with interest and in the meantime, it might not be a bad tool to bookmark and revisit once in a while. Learn more about Everbread and Haystack here, including signing up for a free account.

[Updated to add: Please be sure to click-through to my follow-up post here. After posting the above review, the company’s Deputy COO contacted me directly to give a preview of current functionality not included with the demo version out there live at the moment. VERY impressive stuff!]

Pingbacks

  1. […] Google launched a much-criticized Flight Search feature this week. Limited to airfare searches for travel within the United States, this is definitely just a teaser as confirmed by Google’s Inside Search blog where the company states, “This is just an early look, not the final destination.” The highly critical industry followers were expecting a fully functional Googled version of ITA Software, and while I agree with their reviews, I’m certain this is beta version for which the company will now get earfuls of “free” testing data and advice. I’ll make a separate posting in the future comparing it against what I’ve seen of Everbread’s Haystack. […]

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