Having paid a reported $1.8m just for the domain name, TravelZoo has launched a comparison site for airline tickets, Fly.com, this week.

Providing an excellent user experience on travel websites is vital, given the complexity of the product on offer in terms of different flight options and the quantity of results, so how does Fly.com measure up?

Fly.com homepage

Homepage

The Fly.com homepage provides a clean and simple interface on a white background, with no distractions for users. Perhaps it should have some featured deals or suggested searches on the page, but this method makes it easy to understand what the site is all about and what users need to do.

Recent searches are remembered on the page, which is a useful feature, and there is a brief summary of what the site does, but the rest is all about the search function.

Flight search

This is nice and simple, providing enough options to allow users to specify what they want, without so many options that the search tool becomes too complicated to understand:

Fly.com flight search

No room for confusion here, and there are some useful options to make searches for flights a little bit more relevant, such as the ability to prefer non-stop flights, and to select a preferred time slot for flight departures:

Fly.com time slots

Destinations may be tricky to spell, or users may not know the names of the particular airport they want to fly to in their destination city, so a little help is essential here to avoid errors in the search process, and the annoyance of seeing a ‘no results found’ page, as well as saving users the effort of typing in log place names.

Fly.com has an auto-suggest feature which provides suggestions for destinations as people start to type in the search boxes, and what’s more, it works well, suggesting a mix of airport and city names, and providing national flags as a handy visual aid:

Fly.com auto-suggest

Results pages

A number of travel sites can be slow in loading up search results, and while users may tolerate a small delay on such sites, it’s important not to make people wait too long to see search results. Fortunately, Fly.com provides results quickly – within five to ten seconds for the searches I tried out, which isn’t bad at all.

As well as showing results on Fly.com, users are also offered the option of seeing results for the same search on Vayama.com, which opens up in a new browser window. I’m not sure about this, as it could be confusing for some users, and also encourages them to leave the main Fly.com site.

Why not just provide all results on Fly.com, which is what travel search engines are supposed to do?

The results on Fly.com are well presented and generally clear to understand, giving three different display options, with the defaults being this summary, which shows the range of prices on offer:

Fly.com search results

Clicking on one of the options gives you results for one of the airlines in more detail, though you can see all airlines at once in this format:


The range of options for viewing the results is impressive, and provides ways to compare results from the same departure airport, the same airline, and more.

Sorting options

Flight searches will often return 100+ results, so giving users the tools to narrow down the options and choose the flight that suits them best is vital, and Fly.com provides some good filtering and sorting options to make more sense of search results.

Fly.com refine search

A range of check boxes and slider tools provide ways to narrow down the search and eliminate irrelevant results, with nine different filtering options, including price range, take-off time, airline, and flight duration, as well as price.

More importantly, results are refreshed and updated quickly after selecting each sorting option, and filters can be removed as easily as they are added.

Problems

The site functioned smoothly and avoided most of the obvious usability errors common on travel sites, though I found that some prices were out of date once I clicked through to the airline site to start the booking process, sometimes they were even cheaper.

Also, the results are displayed in US dollars when I really want to see prices in GBP. I can change this but it means having to scroll down to the very bottom of the filtering options. It also defaults back to dollars for every new search. Fly.com should either remember this preference or detect where users are coming from and show them the appropriate currency.

Conclusion

Having looked at a few flight search engines, including Skyscanner and nowfly.co.uk, I am impressed by the usability of Fly.com, especially given the fact that it is in beta at the moment.

As we covered in our Travel Website Benchmarks report in 2007, there are a number of potential pitfalls when creating travel sites and displaying complex information in a way that is easy for the user to understand, and Fly.com avoids these traps well, providing a very good user experience.