I’m planning a trip that will require flying. Being a frugal shopper, my normal routine involves scouring sites like Kayak, Travelocity, Orbitz and others looking for the least expensive airfare. A new website spotted by our friends at Springwise and founded by Australian entrepreneurs Lauren McLeod and Todd Sullivan, called Flightfox, relies not on databases, but on the power of crowds to locate the cheapest rate. In fact, the site purports to save travelers an average of $373 on trips.

How It Works

Flightfox users create what the site refers to as a “contest” spanning a period of three to five days and commit to paying a finder’s fee of $29. A group of flight experts – called “hackers” – respond with the best flights they can find.

The modest (and completely refundable) finder’s fee provides incentive to these experts to search the best flights. Once the user books his or her trip, the winning flight hacker gets awarded the fee promised up front. Also, because users are dealing with actual humans, any question can be asked. Try that with Travelocity!

Why It Works

Flight hackers compete against each other to find the best deals. They’re considered to be experts because they know strategies to cut fees, taxes and surcharges as well as frequent flyer points, complex routes and more. Price is not the only issue under consideration either; the quality of the flight is also factored in.

In other words, rather than taking a 6:00 a.m. flight in a cramped coach seat surrounded by crying children (sound familiar?), these experts attempt to find flights that are convenient to the traveler’s schedule and, where possible, provide some extra room as well.

Why It Matters

The site benefits users in two ways: it saves travelers time by doing the work of rate-finding for them and, in most cases, it saves them money.

I gave Flightfox a run for its money looking for rates on a domestic flight, but was disappointed to see a disclaimer that said the site was less likely to undercut the lowest advertised prices; multi-city and long-haul flights are where it provides the most bang for the buck. Still, the time-savings involved is worth the finder’s fee.

There is also a free version available for those who prefer not to commit the funds, but it doesn’t provide the necessary motivation to get flight hackers to do the work for you. Lacking incentive, the chance of getting the best results are minimized.

Crowdsourcing has long been considered a staple in social media and is becoming an essential element of social commerce in the form of what we refer to as “social proof”- a reliance on what others are doing or have done. It’s commonplace for us to depend on the opinions and advice of friends, including online “friends,” and even those we don’t know.

Additionally, we place particular trust on those we consider to be experts or authorities, precisely because they save us time, energy and, in this case, money. Flightfox takes advantage of both these heuristics to bring an entirely new meaning to the term “human-powered flight.”

So, the next time I need to find cheap airfare – especially if it involves international travel – I may forego price-comparison sites altogether and head over to Flightfox instead.  After all, my time is worth at least $29. Plus, if I don’t like the results, I can get my money back, which is something that certainly appeals to my frugal nature.

Flightfox airfares