Frequent flyers loyal to the Star Alliance network of airlines have a new iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch app at their fingertips with the surprisingly powerful FareFinder app. But is it worth taking up space on your iOS device?
Business travellers who prefer to fly out of Australia on Star Alliance members Air China, Air New Zealand, Singapore Airlines, Thai Airways or United Airlines will find the fares, schedules and flight details useful. (You'll find a full list of Star Alliance airlines at the bottom of this review, in case you were wondering.)
But we think that it'll particularly find a home on the iPhones of passengers heading to obscure European cities (is it better to connect on Lufthansa via Frankfurt, Swiss via Zurich or SAS via Copenhagen?) or on other multiple-stop itineraries.
FareFinder follows closely on the heels of last month's Navigator app, which is just schedule-based (although it does have some useful lounge-hunting options).
The app cleverly uses GPS to figure out where you are, then suggests the nearest airports. That's a particularly useful feature if you happen to be in a region you don't know with several airports within striking distance.
The app also suggests destination airports near the one you've chosen. For example, if you know you need to be in southern Germany near Munich, for example, you could add flights to other airports to maximise the potential flights the app will return.
We chose a one-way Sydney-London flight in business class in two days' time to test, and the app returned several choices.
Dates are very flexible too, with either a "depart between" range option or a more specific selection. The more specific selection can also vary a day before or after a particular date.
Only First, Business and Economy classes are available for selection, so if you wanted to take Premium Economy on Air New Zealand, SAS, Thai or Turkish airlines, you're out of luck.
Results are initially displayed in a matrix by airline, split out by price and number of stopovers. You can also choose to see results by airport, dates or on a map.
Once you've picked your airline, you can choose flights. Usefully, flights with long layovers or red-eye schedules are marked.
From there, you can save, email or print your itinerary, call the airline or visit their homepage. The app doesn't yet carry through your selected flights, though, but this appears to be planned for an update.
Usefully, the app detects your location and gives you the local reservations number if you decide to call. We were in France when testing, and it gave us the right +33-prefixed number. If you do call, the app page gives you clear directions about how to get back to the app so you can quote the flights you want to the reservations agent.
You can also add your own travel agent's (or assistant's) number in the app settings, or all the agent (or assistant) needs is in the email that the app sends for you -- including the full fare construction (which you can see at the bottom if you click through to the image below).
Of course, the app only searches for Star Alliance airlines, which aren't always the cheapest. On a similar Kayak all-airlines fare aggregator search, we found fares over A$700 cheaper than the A$4900 rate for a one-stop business class flight from Sydney to London.
But all in all, it's a very useful app to have at your fingertips if you often travel at the last minute and need to check a fare. Since the lack of booking integration is a drawback, it's most useful if you have a travel agent, assistant or colleague who can book a flight for you.
The full list of Star Alliance airlines: Adria Airways, Aegean Airlines, Air Canada, Air China, Air New Zealand, All Nippon Airways, Asiana Airlines, Austrian Airlines, Blue1, BMI, Brussels Airlines, Continental Airlines, Croatia Airlines, EgyptAir, LOT Polish, Lufthansa, SAS Scandinavian Airlines, Singapore Airlines, South African Airways, Spanair, Swiss International Air Lines, TAM Airlines, TAP Portugal, Thai Airways International, Turkish Airlines, United Airlines, US Airways.