In the all-too-crowded skies of the online travel industry, is there room for another airfare site? Travelers in search of airfare deals already have to wade through a sea of aggregators, traditional booking engines, auction sites, watchdog sites, bargain sites, and official airline Web sites. Could yet another site really save us time, energy and money?
The founders of Vayama.com think so. The site, which debuted in June 2007 in beta form and just made its official launch on February 13, positions itself as an alternative to other airfare sites for international travelers. While most existing sites offer both domestic and international airfare, Vayama seeks to provide a greater breadth and depth of itineraries for folks looking to travel abroad.
Does Vayama’s international focus give it a leg up on the competition, or is it just one more tired entrant in an already crowded field? For us, the answer was mixed. We found great savings on certain itineraries, but we also hit some major roadblocks when testing the site. Read on for our full review — and our overall grade.
Vayama’s tagline is “international travel solved.” By focusing solely on international flights, Vayama aims to provide “a massive selection of airlines, flights and fares, many never previously available online, so you can find the lowest prices and best schedule options.” While the site’s main feature is its international flight booking engine, it also offers destination guides as well as practical information on passports, visas, and health and safety issues.
Editor’s Note: Despite the self-avowed international focus of the site, we did get flight results when we tried searching a domestic itinerary within the United States. For the purposes of this story, however, we tested only the site’s key claim: that it offers better deals and more schedule options on international trips than its competitors.
There are dozens of flight search engines online, from the big three booking sites (Expedia, Travelocity and Orbitz) to aggregators (Kayak, Sidestep, Yahoo! Farechase) and beyond (CheapTickets, Hotwire, ).
What sets Vayama apart? In addition to the claim that the site offers better deals and more schedule options, Vayama also touts its map feature, which allows you to visualize your flight options before booking.
How It Stacks Up: We tested Vayama’s flight booking capacity on six different international itineraries, from the most basic of roundtrips (New York – London) to more complicated multi-city routes (New York – Tokyo – Bangkok – New York). For comparative purposes, we also tested the same itineraries on two other sites: Travelocity (a traditional booking engine) and Kayak (an aggregator).
Our results were mixed. Vayama came out on top in two of our six test cases; the site found the cheapest fares from Chicago to Buenos Aires (as well as flights that didn’t show up on Kayak) and saved us nearly $200 over any of the competitors on flights from Miami to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. On the latter itinerary, even the most expensive of Vayama’s results was cheaper than anything the other sites gave us.
On two other fairly common itineraries (New York to London and Los Angeles – Sydney – Auckland – Los Angeles), Vayama was in line with the other sites in terms of fares and itineraries, though Vayama’s fares were usually $5 or $10 higher.
When it came to our last two itineraries, we hit a few roadblocks. One of our biggest quibbles about Vayama was the lack of a “search nearby airports” option. However, it seems that in some cases the site does this for you whether you want it to or not. For example, we were impressed to see a fare of $579 roundtrip (including all taxes and fees) from Philadelphia to Barcelona — until we took a closer look at the itinerary. The second half of our departure leg was a nonstop flight on Continental from Newark to Barcelona, while the first half (which also displayed Continental’s logo) was a flight from an “airport” called Philadelphia Rail Station, with a flight time of 59 minutes aboard an “unknown aircraft.” Of course, this wasn’t a flight at all but a train ride on Amtrak (Continental’s air/rail codeshare partner).
We don’t necessarily object to Vayama’s listing this itinerary because for many travelers, the lower fare out of Newark would be worth the extra train journey. However, the way it was displayed visually — as though the train trip were simply another flight — was misleading. And for travelers who might only want to fly out of Philadelphia, there seemed to be no way to eliminate the Newark itineraries from the search results.
An even bigger problem cropped up when we tested a multi-city itinerary: New York – Tokyo – Bangkok – New York. The first few flights of the trip were fine, but then we saw this: “Transfer from Bangkok Suvarnabhumi International Apt, TH (BKK) to Auckland International Apt, NZ (AKL).” That’s right: Before you could proceed to the last leg on Vayama’s scheduled itinerary (a flight from Auckland to New York), you’d need to find a way to get yourself all the way from Bangkok to Auckland — not exactly a quick cab ride away. Inexplicably, the site offered no flight suggestions for this transfer. To make matters worse, every single one of Vayama’s results for this flight search had the same gaping itinerary hole. In contrast, Kayak and Travelocity offered much more convenient alternatives.
Editor’s Note: The preliminary research for this story was done in mid January, when Vayama was technically still in beta mode. When we tried the same New York – Tokyo – Bangkok – New York itinerary again on February 14, a day after the site’s official launch, we did not encounter the same connection problem described above. It’s impossible to say whether the difference was due to normal fluctuations in flight availability or if Vayama has fixed the glitch that caused the initial problem. In any case, we advise readers to examine their search results carefully before booking.
Functionality and Design: Vayama has a clean, user-friendly layout with a clickable world map as the centerpiece of its design. You can select your departure and arrival cities by clicking your cities on the map or by typing them into the search fields. The map is particularly useful if you’re looking for alternative airports to try, since you can click on a state or country and see all of its airports, large and small. However, we found the map largely irrelevant when it came to deciding which flight to book. Price, schedule, airline and total flight time — all of which are displayed in the results list underneath the map — are more influential factors for most travelers than the exact flight path their plane takes to get to their destination.
Vayama lacks several of the features many travelers take for granted on other flight search sites, such as flexible dates, the option to choose whether nearby airports should be included in search results, and a matrix display for those results (to show how prices vary on different dates). However, you can specify preferred airlines, pick your cabin class and search multi-city itineraries.
The booking process is straightforward; we like that we didn’t necessarily have to sign up for a Vayama account in order to purchase our flights and that we could choose our seats from 3-D seat maps.
Neat and Nifty
In addition to its flight booking capabilities, Vayama also offers a wealth of destination information on many international cities, including sightseeing highlights, travel blogs (from Travelpod) and information on navigating each city. If you’re a local or a frequent visitor to a particular city, you can apply to be a “city expert” and update the site’s airport and city information in exchange for credit toward a future Vayama flight.
Be sure to read your search results carefully to make sure that there are no mysterious gaps or transfers in your itinerary and that you’re departing from and arriving in the airports you specified.
The Bottom Line
Vayama is well worth a look before your next international trip, particularly if you’re headed for exotic destinations like Africa or South America, or if you’re the type of traveler that’s willing to take a train to a less convenient airport to save $50 or $100. But it should not be your only resource when searching for flights. While the site saved us money on certain itineraries, it did not consistently live up to its claim of providing more options and lower fares, and we hit a few significant snags during the booking process. The site is still new, and it seems to be already working out some of the initial kinks. We hope that it will soon catch up with its competitors in terms of functionality and features. But for now, it should only be one weapon of many in your flight-booking arsenal.
Editor’s Note: This story was originally published in February 2008.