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Inspiring annoyance

By Carol Sottili
Sunday, January 23, 2011's recently launched "Be Inspired" search engine is billed as a new spin on travel deal searches. When CEO Christopher Cuddy said in an interview, "Here we are in 2011, and it's still incredibly difficult, in English language terms, to plan a trip. Our intention is to make it as simple as a conversation," we yelled, "Yes!"

The idea is brilliant in its simplicity. All a traveler has to do is to plug in two parameters - departure city and a timeframe of either 30, 60 or 90 days - and the search engine comes up with the best flight deals to destinations worldwide, offered by an impressive array of vendors, including Priceline, Hotwire and Vayama. The search can be refined to beaches, city break, family, adventure and ski & snow. And further refined to indicate desired destination temperatures, continent and/or budget.

The concept is definitely a winner. But the reality? Not so much, mostly because the flight choices are sometimes inconvenient, and the top choices in destinations are often outright strange. Asked for the best deal from Washington to any beach destination, it came up with flights on American via for $409 round trip, but the flight to Aruba made two stops and would take nearly 12 hours. Asked for the best ski & snow deal out of both Washington and Baltimore (Reagan National and Washington Dulles are in one group, but BWI Marshall has to be requested separately), and it sent us to Syracuse, N.Y., not exactly a center of the ski-resort universe. Asked to find a city break from Washington, its first pick was Beirut.

Perhaps the system has bitten off more than it can chew. Or maybe it just needs to work out some kinks. The idea of a search engine that finds the best fares without having to pick a destination is great. But we'd rather go skiing in Salt Lake City than Syracuse, see a show in New York instead of Beirut and pay a little more to get to Aruba in half the time.

© 2011 The Washington Post Company