A new iPhone app has been released that lets you book "all flights, anywhere" — including Australian domestic routes. We put it to the test to see whether it really found the cheapest fares and if it was easy to use.
The app is unique because most travel booking websites target a certain target market — for example, the popular US site priceline.com only allows Americans to book through it. Skyscanner, on the other hand, lets anyone in any country book flights.
Secondly, Skyscanner doesn't just do a basic search of which airline has the cheapest ticket each way — it will even combine tickets from multiple airlines to find the absolute cheapest route.
The test flight
We tested it by looking at a flight from Melbourne (Tullamarine) to Perth return, departing 12th March and returning 23rd March.
When the app starts up, it senses your location and suggests the nearest airport (though in our case, it suggested Melbourne - Essendon Airport, which wasn't a terribly useful suggestion and we had to manually correct to Melbourne - Tullamarine).
Some thought has been put into the screen where you choose dates for the flights, with one-touch buttons provided for days coming up, and on the return leg, some common trip durations:
Once we selected dates, Skyscanner very quickly found a return route with Tiger Airways for $318 total. It shows you what sources it's searching as it does it too -- in our search, we spotted eBookers, Jetabroad, Qantas, Virgin blue and Tiger Airways.
However, it also cleverly found routes which combined low fares from multiple airlines to get the cheapest package price. In this instance, although the direct Tiger return ticket was overall cheapest, Skyscanner found a $337 ticket which flew Tiger directly from Melbourne to Perth, but on the return leg, flew Virgin Blue from Perth to Sydney, then shuttled the passenger on to Melbourne via Tiger again.
While this combination may not be appealing to business travellers whose travel is covered by their company, or who put a premium on the time offered by a direct connection, the ability to very easily find the cheapest possible flights while on the go could appeal to small business owners paying for their own travel.
In comparison, travel.com.au's cheapest option was $439 — a combination of a Jetstar outward and Virgin Blue return flight.
Webjet did better, finding the same direct route as Skyscanner — $318 on Tiger — but didn't offer the option of combining tickets with multiple airlines for a single leg, and instead only offered flights with one airline in each direction.
One deficiency in the Skyscanner app we noticed was that it didn't mention baggage inclusions in the fares it found. As Australia is moving to the US model of choosing fares with or without baggage included, this is an obvious area that needs improvement.
Booking the flights
Skyscanner doesn't book the flights directly, which is a shame — though that would be an order of magnitude harder for them to do.
However, it does link you directly to airline websites in its inbuilt web browser to book each of the flights it has recommended. The page that comes up already has your chosen flights pre-selected, so you don't have to go through the whole flight search process on the airline website again.
There's also a telephone booking button which will put you through to the airline to make the booking over the phone. There still seems to be some glitches with that — when we pressed the call button to book the Tiger Airways flight, Skyscanner wanted to call a number that started with '0065' — a number that wouldn't work in Australia.
Still, for an app that's only six days old, it seems likely that these glitches will be smoothed out pretty quickly.
If you don't find it easy to book the flights through the app, you can email yourself the itinerary details and get a link to click that will take you straight to the Skyscanner itinerary on their website, to complete the bookings in a desktop browser.
Who is Skyscanner, anyway?
Skyscanner says it was "created by a group of flight search geeks", and "our mission is to never miss a flight." It started as an Excel spreadsheet attempting to list every commercial flight in the world, and became rapidly popular with travellers — despite the unwieldy nature of the document.
The company got a sizeable cash injection from Scottish Equity Partners and ramped up its website, with the goal of "becoming the first website in the world to offer every single commercial flight on the planet."
The company has about 100 employees, with offices in Edinburgh and Poland. The company notes that it is a non-travel-agent! "We cannot take calls enquiring about particular flights, airlines or bookings since we do not sell tickets or provide a telephone enquiry service."