Can AirNinja Find Airfare Deals?
Everyone has his or her own strategy for finding the best price on airfare. Some people swear by sites like Farecast, Farecompare, and Air Fare Watch Dog. More and more people, however, are relying on Kayak.com to sniff out the cheapest fares.
The only problem with big search engines like Kayak and others, is that they do not include many smaller, regional and discont, airlines. A new site called AirNinja is designed to fill that niche. Enter your departure point and destination into AirNinja and the site returns a list of small and discount airlines that service your route. It does not help you book flights, or even hint at ticket prices, but it does provide contact information so you can check for yourself.
The question that emerges: will this really help you save money on a ticket?
Putting it to the test
I deceided to do a little comparison shopping to see if AirNinja could help save money. On June 30, 2008, I tried four diffrent itineraries and comapared the prices between Kayak.com's results and those offered by AirNinja's suggestions.
Round 1: Newark to Los Angeles
My first test was a crosscountry flight. I searched for a flight from Newark's EWR on July 29, 2008, to Los Angeles LAX with a return on August 5, 2008. Kayak's search computers went crazy and, for this week long trip, turned up a ticket on AirTran for $385. When I went to AirTran's website the actual ticket price was $360. Not bad.
Over at AirNinja, I actually searched for flights from all airports in the New York area to all airports in the Los Angeles area. The search turned up JetBlue and Southwest Airlines. JetBlue is searched by Kayak and didn't really offer me a close enough route to be acceptable. Southwest, which is not searched by Kayak, turned up a ticket for a total of $447. This is not a great price, especially considering it requires a flight out of an inconvenient airport on Long Island.
Result: Kayak wins
Round 2: New York to San Francisco
I wanted to test the crosscountry flight again. This time I searched for flights from New York's JFK, departing on July 29, 2008, to San Francisco's SFO, returning, again, on August 5, 2008. Kayak found a ticket on JetBlue for $329.
AirNinja searched and the only carrier it returned was JetBlue. Out of curiosity, I entered the same itinerary into the JetBlue site and the same price, $329, came back. I am inclined to call this one a draw, but must conceed that Kayak was more conenient.
Result: Draw on price, though Kayak was more convenient
Round 3: New York to London
I wanted to try some international flights as well so I went to Kayak and searched for tickets from all airports in New York to all airports in London. I kept the departure date July 29 but this time I changed the return to August 12, 2008. Kayak returned a fair of $737.64 on Air India, one of my favorite airlines.
With AirNinja, things got a bit more complicated. Three airlines were suggested: AirBerlin, Aer Lingus, and Zoom Airlines. I had a lot of trouble booking a flight through AirBerlin. Everytime I tried to get the price to London, I eneded up looking at a ticket going to Vienna. I fiddled for a few minutes and gave up. I moved on to the Aer Lingus website which was a pleasing shade of green. I entered the information and, for a flight going from JFK to London Gatwick, a price of $1,228.05 returned. Finally, I gave Zoom Airlines a try. Several of the flights had been booked already, so I had to change the dates a bit. Still, I managed to find a ticket only a day or two off the original itinerary for $988.55.
Round 4: London to Barcelona
AirNinja claims its strength is finding deals on flights within Europe. I did a search for flights from all airports in London to all airports in Barcelona, departing on July 29 and returning August 5. Kayak found a flight on Easyjet, which did not surprise me, for $185. However, when I went to the Easyjet website, the actual fare was increased to $228.61 by various fees Kayak had not detected.
AirNinja found five airlines that could make the trip. The first, Thomsonfly returned a comparably absurd price of more than $535. The second, Fly Thomas Cook, would not return a price. At this point I realized that navigating airline websites was a serious pain. The next on AirNinja's list was Easyjet. Again, out of curiosity, I did a search and was able to adjust the times, though I kept the same days, to get a slightly cheaper fare of $200.72. Finally, I checked the last airline, Ryanair. The website required little fiddling and returned a price of $156.42.
In this test, Kayak emerged the victor. To be fair (or should I say "fare") this was in no way a scientific or conclusive test. The dates and routes I chose were completely arbitrary. Looking at the list of airlines AirNinja has indexed, I suspect this tool is especially useful for shorter, regional flights in areas you are not familiar with, particularly in Europe.
Where Kayak really stood out was in the ease of use compared to badly designed airline websites. I am sure this is no accident of the Kayak team, or a surprise to fans of the site, but the interface really wins points for usability.
That said, I think I will add AirNinja to the list of sites I check when doing airline ticket research. You never know when it might find something you had never heard of before.
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