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Times on the nose with search engine pick

  • Published Sunday, August 22, 2010, at 12:04 a.m.
  • Updated Sunday, August 22, 2010, at 12:32 a.m.

The Sunday London Times has just completed what it claims to be a serious study of the main airfare search engines, and has named Momondo.com as the best of them. It bases that decision on Momondo's "great coverage searching more airlines than all the others, and featuring no-frills and smaller, niche carriers . . . Over multiple searches, it . . . gave the best prices for long haul." For more details, see the upcoming London Times Travel Supplement for September 2010.

Four qualifying statements need to be made about that choice:

• No airfare search engine ever consistently discovers the best fares for flights, or consistently surpasses the others, and smart travelers always check the results of several before making use of one. Among some observers, the claim that any one search engine is superior to the rest is a highly debatable proposition.

• In conducting its study and choosing the contestants, the Times included only two American search engines — Expedia.com and Kayak.com — and deliberately excluded such giants as Travelocity and Orbitz. The other contenders were British websites or British-owned websites, like the important Ebookers.com, Skyscanner.net (of Edinburgh) and the new Zugu.com (owned by a British firm). If you're a fan of the American-based Travelocity and Orbitz, you'll obviously take issue with the newspaper's methodology.

• The London Times failed to include the Icelandic airfare search engine called DoHop.com, which seems to match Momondo.com in its policy of scanning all the sources of airfare information, even those that pay no commission to DoHop. A great many observers, including myself, have been greatly impressed by the fares that DoHop often discovers.

• And most important, the London Times is no longer regarded as an awesomely meticulous and careful source of facts and reasoned judgments; it is generally seen as just as sensationalistic and irresponsible as all the other London newspapers (an unruly bunch).

That having been noted, it is nonetheless impressive that Momondo.com — a small corporation in an even smaller nation — won the Times' nod. You normally would have expected the famous newspaper to choose a British firm as tops in the field. I for one was greatly satisfied by its choice, because I have been writing for several years that Momondo.com is a solid and respectable search engine that often produces remarkable results. I have also several times quoted the claim by Momondo's Danish executives that they scan the airfares of airlines and other search engines that pay no commission to Momondo.com for the business it creates — in other words, its searches are uninfluenced by commercial considerations (they say). Momondo also is, apparently, one of the few search engines to include the fares of Southwest Airlines in its results.

So, immodest as it may seem, I've been jubilant over the analysis just announced by the London Times. It is probably the only opinion in years (other than an occasional movie review) in which I have agreed with that newspaper.

Arthur Frommer is the pioneering founder of the Frommer's Travel Guide book series. He co-hosts the radio program "The Travel Show" with his travel correspondent daughter Pauline Frommer. Find more destinations online and read Arthur Frommer's blog at frommers.com.

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