An Interface Critique of

by Alison Smith

CheapTickets was started in 1986 with the promise of, “the selection you need and the discounts you want.” Containing many of the same features as other more marketed travel sites, e.g., Priceline or Expedia, CheapTickets allows the user to customize the search for flights, hotels, car rentals, events tickets, cruises, or some combination in order to book his vacation. In this way, the CheapTickets interface is useful for booking travel; however, there are a few instances of unnecessary complexity that if simplified, would provide the user with an even better experience.

At first glance the CheapTickets interface seems overly complicated. When the user reaches the home page, he is greeted by 8 links to pages related to booking and 6 links to pages related to the user’s account or registering for an account, as well as all of the content under the “Home” tab, and a plethora of ads for various destinations. The “Home” tab has radio buttons for all booking options, which is a useful feature and provides a good mapping to the user; however, across the top of the page span links to alternate tabs with the names: “Hotels,” “Cars,” “Cruises,” “Flights,” etc. Clicking on the “Hotels” tab takes the user to an exact replica of the “Home” tab, but in this case the “Hotel” radio button is chosen. All of the tabs that replicate the radio button functionality are unnecessary, and should be removed in order to simplify the design. Also, the “My Account,” “My Trips,” and “Write a Review,” pages only available to registered members, should be consolidated in order to simplify the display.

Unlike many other comparable sites, the “From” and “To” boxes for booking flights do not auto-fill destinations, instead the user is provided a link to a page of airport codes for each city in the United States, and is also given the option to type in the departure and destination cities. In many cases, this is successful. The user types in the respective cities and the rest of the booking information, and presses “Search Flights,” and the airport codes for the cities are filled in, or an error is returned in the case that the user didn’t choose a valid city. An issue arises when the user chooses, say, Washington, D.C. a city considered to have two airports. The flights returned are all departing from IAD, the airport in Dulles, VA, with no mention of DCA, the airport in Arlington, VA. The current interface is an acceptable alternative to one that in-line assists the user by auto-filling text, and it should allow the user to either enter the airport code or the city name, but in cases of multiple airports mapped to one city, should have the user select the intended airport prior to preceding.

Overall, the CheapTickets interface is quite useful in assisting the user with booking travel. The radio buttons from the “Home” tab provide a number of customizations that allow the user to easily choose a vacation package, or simply search for a round-trip flight. A major issue is the unnecessary complexity of the interface, caused by extraneous links and duplicate functionality.