Flywheel Managed WordPress Hosting vs. WP Engine

There are a plethora of these types of reviews out there, but frankly, considering they all have affiliate links where–especially in the case of WP Engine–the reviewers can bank big time, they just don’t feel real.

Full disclosure: I provide affiliate links to WP Engine and Flywheel throughout this site, but they have been removed from this post so I can stay as non-biased as possible herein. Also, see this post on why I don’t believe WP Engine is even a true WordPress host.

This review will focus specifically on my experiences using bulk / premium plans with each of the companies, and right off the bat I can say that both of them provide an excellent hosting experience. The biggest difference is simply that Flywheel is significantly cheaper, but the support is drastically less efficient.

Migration: WP Engine

  • WP Engine 5/5
  • Flywheel 4/5

Flywheel will migrate your websites for you. While in theory this sounds wonderful, since you don’t have to lift a finger other than providing them with access to your current hosting environment, given my need to have ~50 sites transferred this really wasn’t ideal.

One of my biggest sites didn’t transfer successfully, and they were not able to figure the issue out and fix it in a timely enough manner (for me, that meant fixing it in one day, even two would have been okay but when three came around I pulled the site from Flywheel altogether.) I ended up transferring that one myself. Aside from that, not having control over when my sites would transfer specifically was slightly inconvenient for me and some of my clients.

WP Engine’s automated migration plugin is simply put the best thing to ever happen to moving sites around the web, though it only works if you’re moving to WP Engine. Hands down, this experience was better with WP Engine.

Site Performance: WP Engine

  • WP Engine 5/5
  • Flywheel 4/5

I began using WP Engine in August of 2014 and stuck with them exclusively through August 2017. I was extremely happy with the performance of all of my sites on that platform, and rarely had any major issues or outages. Twice sites were down for several hours, and they refunded my entire month’s fees when that happened. WP Engine is a stellar host when it comes to uptime and speed.

I still host this website with them, even though I’ve moved all of my other sites and client sites to Flywheel.

With Flywheel, I’ve had as many issues in five months as I did with WP Engine over 3+ years. I am being patient with them since I think they simply don’t have the capital that WP Engine has, and have seen big improvements in this short time, too. I’m completely happy with the speed of the sites, but the downtime–and lack of an offer of reimbursement, particularly on a specific 8 hour downtime across all of my sites–is less impressive than WP Engine.

Ease of Use: WP Engine

  • WP Engine 4/5
  • Flywheel 2/5

This applies to things like getting into the database, SFTP and each company’s administrative area / control panel.

Flywheel has a drastically more beautiful interface, though WP Engine’s is completely sufficient as far as functionality. I actually prefer certain things about WP Engine’s control panel–specifically that I can easily get to any install at any given moment. With Flywheel, since I have 50 or so sites, there’s a paginated view that forces me to scroll to the bottom of the first page, click “Next / 2” and then find the next site. A search feature that works immediately via AJAX would be a significant time saver.

WP Engine also makes it much easier to get to any given feature in one click. I can jump into everything from redirects to CDN management, SSL to error logs via a single menu on the left of any install. The database is just as easy to login to, and provides a familiar PHPMyAdmin interface.

screenshot of wp engine interface
Just click any of the links on the left to get to any of the sections you need to access in WP Engine. Very easy to get where I need to go quickly.

Flywheel buries certain features behind tabs. So if I want to setup SSL, it’s two clicks to even get into the interface to get started (Add-ons > SSL).

flywheel dashboard screenshot
Flywheel’s site management interface.

Turning SSL on is then hidden beneath the Advanced tab, along with the ability to turn on WP_DEBUG. This is a frustrating “feature”, too, you can’t edit wp-config.php with Flywheel. At all, no exceptions allowed. All you can do is turn on WP_DEBUG, and there’s not way to write errors to a log instead of outputting them right on your site. This could be a major dealbreaker for some developers.

You also have to go into this interface to clear the cache and create a staging site, features WP Engine allows you to do from directly within WP Admin.

This is a major pain, because clearing cache shouldn’t mean opening up an entirely different website. I work within WordPress, and shouldn’t be forced to go somewhere else to perform basic tasks on my WordPress site. The interface is also clunky, clicking buttons to clear cache and turn on debug results in a loading screen, which often gets stuck and you then need to refresh and you’re left thinking, “Setting WP_DEBUG to true shouldn’t take longer than a few quick keystrokes and a saved file…”

Exporting logs with Flywheel means clicking a button and waiting for an email. With WP Engine, they’re automatic. This makes things much easier when trying to sort out a problem.

Managing your database is also hidden here in the Advanced tab, and you don’t have full PHPMyAdmin access, but a limited set of customized interface controls. It looks nice, and I have been able to do everything I’ve needed, but it’s another case of Flywheel’s desire to put form over function.

screenshot of flywheel's custom database manager
Database management with Flywheel.

Now, I absolutely love pretty things, but not at the expense of ease of use.

One area Flywheel provides in their control panel which WP Engine does not is allowing you to turn on development mode, where they turn off caching and it’s slightly easier to do work on a site, though really this isn’t that big of a feature since it’s easy to ditch caching and update links to JS and CSS files anyway.

SFTP is a little easier with Flywheel, since you have one login that gives you access to all of your sites. At first I found this strange, and it’s easy to open up a functions.php file from Site A and then come back later and think you’re working on Site B only to edit the wrong functions.php file, but once you get used to it, switching between sites becomes much easier. Since I work with code more often than the control panel, this actually has enough of a benefit to almost give Flywheel an edge, especially because of how it helps with collaboration: if I hire someone to help with one site, I can then easily add them to others–no need to create new SFTP logins for everyone, every time.

Pricing: Flywheel

  • WP Engine 2/5
  • Flywheel 3/5

My biggest update here, April 2019, is that Flywheel doesn’t stay true to their word. I have written statements via email that state my pricing would not go up because I’d get similar discounts every year. Despite that, my account manager refused to honor such written statements. It is clear that I was told what I needed to hear to switch to them in the first place, and now that I’m a customer–a high level one, at that–it’s not a priority. I wouldn’t be surprised if they have data showing that people like me, with 50 sites on their platform, will hesitate to move away because it’s a major pain. They’re correct in my case, but I am actively looking for a host that holds true to their word.

For those of us who made the leap from shared hosting, even with previously reputable shared hosts like MediaTemple, the cost difference was one of the hardest things to swallow. Sure, we get drastically better, WordPress-specific performance, but where I was paying $200 / year for nearly unlimited sites with MediaTemple, now WP Engine wanted to charge me $6500 for 100 sites and Flywheel came in at $2500 for 50 sites. That’s a big change and starts to make hosting sites for your clients less appealing in some cases.

Flywheel and WP Engine both include free SSL certificates, and WP Engine offers free CDNs (Flywheel charges $8 / month / site).

Given that WP Engine is the better host all around, this is the major consideration most developers and resellers will have to contend with: is Flywheel’s diminished support worth the headaches of fixing things myself, more often, compared to WP Engine’s higher pricing.

Let’s assume that if I needed 100 sites (which I never did with WP Engine either), Flywheel would be $5000. That’s $1500 / year cheaper than WP Engine. My hourly rate is $100 / hour, so essentially, that’s around 15 hours per year I can dedicate to fixing things on Flywheel that WP Engine would have taken care of for me. Since Flywheel still has support, it’s just not 24/7 chat, it’s unlikely I’ll spend 15 hours on work like this, and so the pricing makes it significantly worth the minor inconveniences of additional clicks in the control panel, and I would argue that even those are offset by the easier SFTP setup.

Flywheel is continually adding more support folks, too, so I expect them to get closer to 24/7 chat at some point.

Support: WP Engine

  • WP Engine 2/5
  • Flywheel 5/5

Before I get into why Flywheel’s support is better, I should be clear that support is exactly why I left WP Engine. I was paying a ton of money for hosting, and when the support was absolutely stellar over the years, it felt like an expense worth paying. Then they started nit-picking over little things. Support started dropping links for me to research my issues instead of just fixing them like they had in the past. Suddenly, the expense seemed unwarranted, and I grew frustrated. Thus, I moved to Flywheel.

With WP Engine though, when you click the live chat link, you typically get a support tech within seconds. With Flywheel, you’ll often wait 5 – 15 minutes, though this is always improving. They provide two email addresses whereby you can get help, a regular one that gives a reply in a business day or so, and an emergency one that typically responds within hours. Still, Flywheel has been able to resolve the majority of my problems.

If Flywheel’s support continues to improve, though, as I have personally seen over my five months with them so far, they’ll soon match WP Engine.

At the end of the day, a few interface improvements (likely given the company’s focus on design), access to wp-config.php (unlikely based on what I’ve been told previously), and a much ramped up support will give Flywheel the easy edge…as long as they don’t raise prices to suit.

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