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InsideTrip: Web Site Review

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insidetrip.comEver sat through a six-hour layover, had an airline lose your suitcase or stuffed your legs into a cramped middle seat? If so, you know there's a lot more to a good flight than just getting a cheap fare. Sure, price is important, but many travelers would pay a little extra to avoid the inconveniences and discomforts that can turn an everyday flight into a trip from hell.

Now there's a new Web site to help you do just that. InsideTrip.com is more than just another flight search engine; instead of listing only prices and schedules, the site weighs a number of other factors that could affect the quality of your trip. How much legroom do the seats have? Will you need to take an airport train or bus to make your connection, or can you simply walk to your gate? And do you really want to book a flight that's only on time for 35 percent of its arrivals?

By offering all of these diverse statistics in one place, InsideTrip seeks to help travelers make a more informed decision about which flight to book.

The Basics
Founded in 2007, InsideTrip combines a basic fare search engine with a unique "TripQuality" rating that evaluates each itinerary based on 12 different factors, including flight duration, on-time performance and historic passenger load.

This rating can be customized to suit your personal flight preferences. Are you a carry-on-only type of traveler? You can have the site take an airline's lost luggage statistics out of the equation. If you couldn't care less which type of plane you're on, you can eliminate the "aircraft type" factor from your ratings. Each time you change your parameters, the site adjusts its TripQuality ratings accordingly.

InsideTrip pairs these ratings with fares from Orbitz, allowing you to weigh flight quality against cost. Once you've chosen a flight, the site sends you to Orbitz for booking.

Competitors
There are dozens of airfare booking engines on the Web, but InsideTrip is the only site that ranks flights based on comfort and quality. Most of the information InsideTrip displays is available in other places on the Web -- Seat Guru offers seat pitch statistics, for instance, while the Department of Transportation compiles lost luggage numbers for U.S. airlines. But InsideTrip brings all of this data together in one place, along with real-time fare information.

Test Drive
How It Stacks Up: I tested three different fare searches on InsideTrip -- one domestic and two international. For comparison purposes, I checked InsideTrip's prices against those on Kayak, an airfare aggregator, and in every case the prices were within a few dollars of its competitor's. InsideTrip includes all taxes and fees in the fares it displays.

My first test search was a roundtrip flight from Philadelphia to San Francisco. My eight pages of results were sorted by price and then TripQuality rating, so I could see that for the cheapest fare -- $379 -- the highest-rated flight had a rating of 72. To understand this rating, I clicked on "Details" and was given a wealth of information about the itinerary (an American Airlines flight connecting in Dallas). The itinerary scored well because the connection time is a convenient hour and the routing of the flights is "very direct" -- the total mileage is only 10 percent longer than a direct flight would be. However, the itinerary lost a few points for high load factors (historically these flights have been 87 to 91 percent full) and poor on-time performance (the flight from Dallas to Philadelphia is only on time for 54 percent of its arrivals).

laptop manI used the "TripQuality Dashboard" to customize the way my rankings were calculated. Since I don't plan on checking a bag on this flight, I unchecked the "lost luggage" box to remove that factor from consideration. I also unchecked the "aircraft type" and "aircraft age" boxes, then hit "Recalculate TripQuality." My ratings adjusted accordingly, but there was no real shake-up in the order of my results.

I was curious about what the highest-ranking flight was, so I sorted my results by TripQuality instead of price. Now on top was a US Airways flight with a rating of 93, ranked high because it was a nonstop flight that also scored well in a few other areas. The price was $546 -- $169 more than the cheapest fare. For some travelers, the price difference might be too great; for others, the higher quality of the US Airways itinerary might be worth the extra chunk of change. InsideTrip is useful because it allows both types of travelers to make comparisons and choose wisely.

My second test search was a round trip from Chicago to Barcelona. The lowest price was $826 for a Lufthansa flight connecting in Munich, but that flight only rated a 67 -- thanks to very high load factors and the fact that one flight is only on time for 31 percent of its flights. (Ouch!) The top rating, 81, went to an Iberia flight connecting in Madrid -- the duration of the flights was shorter, the planes were newer and the total mileage of the route was only 2 percent longer than a nonstop. But the price was $912, an extra $86.

I wanted to find a happy medium between TripQuality and price, so I used a few filters: I cut out all flights with more than one connection, adjusted my TripQuality parameters to show only flights rated at least 70, and sorted my results by price. This gave me a Northwest flight connecting in Amsterdam with a rating of 74 and a price of $881 -- only $55 more than the cheapest available fare. Again, it's up to each individual traveler to figure out whether a higher-ranking flight is worth the extra money, but InsideTrip makes it easy to compare your options.

My final test case was an itinerary from Los Angeles to Bangkok. The cheapest flight ($1,005) had a relatively high rating of 76. The only major disadvantage to that itinerary, a China Airlines flight connecting in Taipei, was a four-hour layover in one direction; otherwise the itinerary scored relatively well on most of the TripQuality factors.

When I checked out the highest-rated flight, I got some sticker shock. The top-ranked flight was rated an 84 -- just 8 points higher than the cheapest flight -- but the price had more than doubled to $2,557. For this traveler, a little more comfort isn't worth an extra $1,552.

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