One of the grievances, and simultaneously a cherished quirk, of the Star Trek universe was how often Captain Kirk outsmarted a computer. If not for artistic license, such outcomes would be considered highly illogical.
But humans outsmarting computers is exactly the recipe behind FlightFox.com, a new travel website that relies on crowdsourcing instead of algorithms to find the biggest discounts for travellers.
One user saved $5,117 on a round-the-world trip - a front page example posted on the site. As is a 49 per cent savings for "Kerim," who had a multiple-city trip contest from Taiwan to Denmark.
The concept is simple. You register and launch a contest where resident "flight experts" compete to find the lowest possible airfare. You pony up a finder's fee upfront, and regardless as to whether or not you book the travel, the flight expert who finds the lowest price shares that finder's fee with the website. Finder's fees start at $24 but you can raise that to increase the competition between flight experts.
My brother recently used FlightFox to book two return tickets from Ottawa to Japan. Using the regular travel search engines like Kayak and Hipmunk, the lowest fare he was able to find was $1,300 per person. Using FlightFox, a flight expert was able to find a fare of $1,000 per person.
Based on user experiences, and even the site's own FAQ, the longer or more complex the flight is, the better the chance for savings. If you're looking for the best flight from Toronto to Ottawa, there aren't many options a computer can't find and you might be better off skipping FlightFox and their fee. But if you have multiple stops on your travel, the fee might pale in comparison to the savings.
So how do people find better deals than the software based sites? Not all travel options make it into the travel search engines. Some carriers' flights are simply not listed and can only be booked directly. A human can do that digging.
A person can also recommend small modifications to your itinerary that might free up some savings. For example they might suggest that instead of insisting on a Sunday stop, you extend your stay in one city by a day and fly on a less busy day, like Monday.
As a new site and service, it is not without some teething issues. A quick look at their twitter page reveals a few glitches that the social media customer service team has since dealt with - but at least they are on top of things. That same page also lists some of the triumphs of users.
What's even more interesting is that if you feel you can find better deals than the websites, you can sign up as a flight expert and get paid for your travel-hacking skills. Just pick which contests to enter and if you get the best deal for others, you pocket a healthy cut of the finder's fee.
Like Captain Kirk, you too can make a name for yourself by outsmarting computers.