Kinsta, WP Engine or Flywheel – Three of The Best Managed WordPress Hosts Compared!
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Kinsta vs Flywheel vs WP Engine is an ongoing rivalry in the world of managed WordPress hosting. Each company have their pros and cons, each have a slightly different vibe, and each aim to attract a somewhat different type of client.
Let’s set things straight by looking at what these three players bring to the table, and how you can choose between them. Which should you choose for your site: Kinsta, Flywheel or WP Engine? Let’s take a look.
The Background to Kinsta vs Flywheel vs WP Engine
Before we get into the nitty-gritty and take a look under the hood of each of these hosts, let’s summarize quickly what managed WordPress hosting stands for and what makes our contenders a good choice — especially if you’re looking for a reliable host for your next WordPress website.
To be honest, the term ‘managed WordPress hosting’ gets thrown around a lot these days and, in some cases, it doesn’t really mean much in practice.
Many hosting companies have realized that just using the ‘WordPress’ label in their marketing materials brings additional eyeballs to their otherwise standard shared hosting offerings. Essentially, this has resulted in the managed WordPress hosting space becoming a bit watered-down, and many users are no longer sure who to trust when they see a hosting platform advertising itself as ‘optimized for WordPress’.
Well, there’s no such problem with these three providers: All three are the real deal.
- WP Engine are one of the pioneers of the managed WordPress hosting market — they’ve been offering WordPress-optimized plans from the very beginning. Currently, they’ve evolved their product to the point where they aim to serve as a kind of ‘WordPress digital experience platform’ (their own words — more on this below) and not just a hosting provider.
- Kinsta are newcomers to the WordPress hosting market — with a lot to offer! Their approach reminds me of WP Engine when they first got started.
- Flywheel are the least expensive managed WordPress host of the three (and actually the company we’re using to host this very website). They offer a number of unique features specifically for designers and web design-focused agencies. And, because of their low entry price, they also attract site owners who would have otherwise chosen a cheaper shared-hosting plan — inviting them to the world of managed WordPress hosting at a very affordable price.
Here’s how these companies stack up against one another based on a handful of key criteria:
Kinsta vs Flywheel vs WP Engine in Detail
💰 1. Pricing
Price is the number one factor for most people when buying literally anything. This is perfectly understandable. No matter how much better Solution A may be than Solution B, it doesn’t matter if you can’t afford it.
So, let’s look into the topic of pricing before anything else.
And, right out of the gate, there’s a problem. Each company has multiple plans, and showcasing them all inside a single table or list would be unreadable. So, instead, let’s break things down into tiers.
For each company, we’ll compare the prices at:
- entry-level: (for one site)
- mid-tier (for three to five sites)
- advanced (for ten sites or more).
With that in mind, here are the pricing differences between the three companies:
Table (a): Kinsta vs Flywheel vs WP Engine for ENTRY-LEVEL hosting
|Free site migration||N||Y||Y|
|CDN||50GB included||plus $10 a month||Y|
Table (b): Kinsta vs Flywheel vs WP Engine for MID-TIER hosting
|Free site migrations||just for one site||Y||Y|
|CDN||200GB included||plus $10 a month per site||Y|
Table (c): Kinsta vs Flywheel vs WP Engine for ADVANCED plans
|Free site migrations||just two||Y||Y|
|CDN||300GB included||plus $10 a month per site||Y|
* The prices presented above apply when you’re paying monthly. Every company has some discounts if you pay for the whole year up front.
Something that becomes apparent immediately is that there’s a lot of variance in those tables, and no clear winner when we take all of the parameters into account.
Even if you only want to host a single website, your decision can still be tough depending on the scale of traffic you’re expecting or the disk space you know you’re going to consume.
Nevertheless, as you can see, the cheapest platform out of the three to get started with are Flywheel (see Flywheel’s pricing page). Their entry-level tier is half the price of what the other two companies have. Obviously, there are some limitations with that — mainly their 5,000 visitors-a-month cap.
While I’m at it, Flywheel say they don’t have overage charges, but I have no experience with how this works specifically. I don’t imagine they’ll just swallow the additional visits above your plan limit. You’ll likely get nudged into upgrading to a higher plan, which makes sense.
If those 5,000 monthly visitors aren’t enough, Flywheel have additional single-site plans with more room:
- $30 a month — 25,000 visits | 10GB disk | 500GB bandwidth
- $75 a month — 100,000 visits | 20GB disk | 1TB bandwidth
Speaking of overage charges, here’s how they play out with the other two companies:
- Kinsta: $1 per 1,000 visits above your plan cap
- WP Engine: $2 per 1,000 visits
Yes, you’re reading this right, WP Engine charge twice as much as Kinsta.
What you can also see in the tables above is that Kinsta offer ‘unlimited’ bandwidth. This is because Kinsta don’t track bandwidth per se. Their pricing is based on the total number of unique visits every month, and not on the amount of data those visits move through the cable.
Moving onto the mid-tier hosting (table B), things are roughly in the same range.
- If you want to launch three WordPress sites, you can do that with each host at the same price.
- Five sites? This is going to be much cheaper with WP Engine and Flywheel. To run five sites with Kinsta, you need their ‘BUSINESS 2’ plan, which is $200 a month.
If you’re interested in hosting ten or more sites (table C), you’re going to be tempted by Flywheel’s offering. Being able to host ten sites for $100 a month on a managed hosting setup is very intriguing. Flywheel aim this plan at freelancers creating sites for clients, which is a very interesting offer.
Hosting multiple sites with WP Engine is the most expensive — not just for the ten-site mark, but going forward from there as well.
- 20 sites: Flywheel — $250 | Kinsta — $300 | WP Engine — $390
- 30 sites: Flywheel — $250 | Kinsta — $400 | WP Engine — $590
- 40 sites: Flywheel — custom | Kinsta — $400 | WP Engine — $790
Granted, you do get some cool features with WP Engine for the price — which we’ll discuss soon — but that number on its own is rather massive.
Also, interestingly, Kinsta now run a promotion where you get free site migrations if you’re coming from either Flywheel or WP Engine. Those seem to not count against your number of allowed site migrations, as seen in tables A, B and C.
🔧 2. Basic Features
The main idea behind managed WordPress hosting is to provide the user with a server environment that’s configured specifically for WordPress websites and doesn’t allow any other software.
It’s also about moving you away from what’s going on with the actual server machine and giving you an easier-to-use interface instead. In short, forget about cPanel.
With that in mind, I’d expect the offerings of Kinsta, Flywheel and WP Engine to reflect those ideas:
2.1. Basic hosting parameters
Here’s how things play out, starting with some general features:
|Free migrations||Y but depending on the plan||Y||Y automated|
|Support||24/7||M-F 9am to 5pm CDT||24/7|
|CDN||Y limited bandwidth||Y extra paid||Y|
To state it plainly: All is there. And that’s actually how you’d expect things to be. After all, this is premium WordPress hosting, and not your run-of-the-mill shared server.
Setting all these ‘yeses’ aside, the only differences that stand out are:
- Kinsta seem to be the only platform here offering SSH access.
- Flywheel support is not available 24/7, which may be problematic for those not living in the US.
- Flywheel are also the only one with no built-in Git integration.
- Site migrations with WP Engine are done automatically, and not by a technician. Meaning sometimes things may not work if your site is a tad non-standard.
- Free site migrations with Kinsta are limited to less than the total number of allowed sites on your plan.
- Kinsta also limit the free CDN traffic you can transfer, from 50GB for the entry-level plan. The overage charges on CDN traffic are $0.10 per GB.
- CDN is a paid extra with Flywheel — $10 per month per site.
With the basic stuff out of the way, here’s some more info about the server infrastructure of each of the companies:
2.2. Servers and Data Centers
Here’s who runs the servers with Kinsta, Flywheel and WP Engine:
- Kinsta — Google Cloud Platform
- Flywheel — own and Google Cloud Platform
- WP Engine — Google Cloud Platform and Amazon AWS
And now the available server locations:
São Paulo, Brazil;
South Carolina, USA;
Los Angeles, California, USA
New York, USA;
San Francisco, USA
South Carolina, USA;
Notes on data center locations for Kinsta, Flywheel and WP Engine:
- Kinsta’s coverage seems to be the most impressive, with some good locations not only in the US but also throughout Asia and Europe.
- Flywheel lack a data center in Australia and have only one location in Asia.
- WP Engine offer a good map overall. Nothing is missing.
Additionally, it’s worth pointing out that Flywheel are working with Google Cloud to roll out a new set of hosting packages. At the time of writing, the server infrastructure at Flywheel was of their own, but that’s changing as you’re reading this.
There are new hosting plans in the works, with fresh features and some upgrades compared with the standard plans, specifically:
🎯 3. WordPress-specific Features and Perks
Now, let’s take a minute to discuss what you’re probably the most interested in: Are there any WordPress-specific features offered by these companies that would truly earn them that ‘managed WordPress hosting’ label?
The short answer is yes, there are. But each company approaches the topic from a different angle. Apart, of course, from the fact that you can only host WordPress sites with them.
Kinsta are the youngest company in this head-to-head comparison. With that, they seem to have found their niche in being both user-friendly and powerful.
When using Kinsta, it becomes apparent that they’re aiming to make your life as a website owner as easy as possible — from a technical point of view — so you don’t have to worry about server things. But, at the same time, you get to take advantage of things such as backups even as frequently as every six hours, CDN integration, Cloudflare Railgun, Elasticsearch, Redis and more.
When it comes to WordPress features specifically, their multisite capability with domain mapping and good backup mechanisms, with 14 to 30-day backup retention, is worth pointing out. You can view all of the backups in your user panel, and those are actually whole snapshots using containers, rather than standard database and filesystem archives.
There’s also easy-to-use staging — you can create a copy of your site with a couple of clicks, test new features and plugins, and then push the site out if you like the result (or scrap it).
Kinsta also keep an eye on your installed WordPress plugins and let you know if any of them need your attention.
Last but not least, you get WP-CLI integrated right from the beginning, which is helpful if you prefer a more direct way of interacting with your WordPress site.
If you’re coming in with an existing site, there’s a handy Migrations menu in the main sidebar. You can request individual site migrations and, depending on where the migration is from (migrations from WP Engine and Flywheel are free regardless of your plan), you may have to pay for it separately.
Speaking of creating new sites, this is also very easy to do. You get an ‘Add Site’ button in your user panel. You can set your logins and passwords, hook up a domain name and choose a server location, and you’re done. After filling out a couple of forms, you’ll see a fresh WordPress instance in your user panel. Kinsta list the important connection details all in one place.
Flywheel’s main focus is undoubtedly on ease of use. Plus, they did pinpoint the most important features for each type of user and delivered those without fail.
For example, if you’re a freelancer, Flywheel help you out when it’s time to hand over the site to your client. You can tell Flywheel to start billing them instead of you, effectively removing yourself from any further dealings after the project is done.
If you want to take it a step further, you can get one of Flywheel’s bulk plans, put Flywheel’s white label on everything and start reselling hosting to your clients.
One more exciting feature of Flywheel’s is the ability to develop your site locally via their custom tool — Local by Flywheel — and then have it deployed to a live server when ready.
If you’re coming in with an existing site, you also get free migrations. Plus, Flywheel work with WordPress Multisite should you need it.
There are also automatic backups along with one-click restore, not to mention their overall custom for-WordPress server configurations, plus optimized built-in caching.
On top of that, Flywheel make working on your WordPress site easier, thanks to their handy on/off toggles for things such as WP_CACHE (though only WP-Rocket is an officially supported caching plugin on the platform), WP_DEBUG and one-click staging enable.
3.3. WP Engine
WP Engine aren’t quite the original pioneer of managed WordPress hosting — that honor actually goes to Pagely. They are, however, now the biggest hosting company in the space — with the largest marketshare.
WP Engine’s offering has evolved quite a bit over the years. The stage they’re at right now seems to be aimed at attracting a broader customer base and no longer pretending to be the boutique WordPress host they used to be back in the day.
Even their site migrations are performed automatically nowadays, which makes sense, given the scale of their operation.
In a word, they’re the mainstream of WordPress hosting.
But that doesn’t mean they don’t have anything interesting to offer. To the contrary, they’re still at the top of their game when it comes to WordPress-optimized servers, along with a custom website management panel.
You get a lot of perks when you sign up with WP Engine, including:
- good staging structure with Dev, Stage and Prod environments
- automated backups
- support for WordPress Multisite, and more.
Plus, WP Engine offer basically everything that can be considered the cutting edge of hosting technology.
That being said, their user panel is a bit less straightforward than Kinsta or Flywheel’s, and it isn’t optimized for mobile, making it a bit intimidating when you first log in.
At the same time, WP Engine are doing a lot in the WordPress community. They recently acquired the theme store StudioPress, and they’ve been doing an excellent job of integrating it with their offer ever since. Every WP Engine hosting plan now gives you access to 35-plus StudioPress themes — including their flagship, the Genesis framework. If I remember correctly, buying the framework separately costs $60 — and the individual sub-themes often go above the $100 mark. So, there’s some real value here, and a serious factor to consider when picking between Kinsta, Flywheel and WP Engine.
Even more recently, WP Engine acquired Array Themes along with their Atomic Blocks and Gutenberg News. WP Engine are apparently looking to enter the new Gutenberg era of WordPress. We should start seeing Array’s products integrated into WP Engine’s offering soon.
However, at the same time, WP Engine have been known to limit some of the things you can do with your WordPress site. Mainly, preventing you from using some (quality) plugins.
🐣 4. Ease of Use
Your experience with Kinsta, Flywheel or WP Engine starts very much the same way. After going through a standard sign-up process, you get access to your newly set user account.
What’s key here is that you see none of the familiar cPanel-like interface, or any other UI that a shared hosting platform may offer you. Instead, you get to interact with your server via a completely custom interface that aims to separate you from the things going on under the hood.
As to how easy to use all of that is, Flywheel are number one for me, then Kinsta, then WP Engine. But you can be the judge: Here’s what the most common panels look like with each of the platforms:
The main dashboard
Individual site view
Migrating a site
WP Engine has automated migrations, so the process is a bit different there. It involves installing a custom plugin on the site to which you want to migrate, and then connecting with your WP Engine setup. Read more about that here.
It doesn’t look like WP Engine have any other stats module apart from what’s visible in the dashboard.
WP Engine seem to have different interfaces for staging depending on the type of plan you’re on. In my case, what’s available is staging via the wp-admin. Here’s the other option.
Again, this section is just meant to show you some of the different interface sections offered by each company. Maybe one of them stands out as something you’d like to use.
📈 5. Performance
Analyzing the performance of Kinsta, Flywheel and WP Engine can be tricky when you just have one site set up on each — like I do. So, instead of me telling you how fast each of my sites loads, let me refer to ReviewSignal’s data, which has a bigger sample of sites to look at.
Let’s start with the table:
|Peak response time (s)||10.0||15.6||11.5|
|Average response time (s)||0.355||2.415||0.509|
|Ratio of total errors to total requests||0.001%||30.949%||0.041%|
|Average throughput (MB/s)||11.88||6.56||64.19|
|PHP Bench score||8.853||9.731||10.766|
|WP Bench score||1036||555||418|
- PHP Bench score is a performance metric indicating how well PHP code runs on a server; lower is better
- WP Bench score is similar, but for WordPress specifically (it can vary a lot based on database architecture and whether the database runs locally or not); higher is better
- Average throughput (MB/s) is a measure of how much data can be sent to the host’s infrastructure per second; higher is better
Overall, based on the data we have, Kinsta are the winners out of the three performance-wise. They’re better across the board on nearly every metric. However, keep in mind that the tests were performed for different price points with each of the companies.
One more thing that stands out is Flywheel are showing a significant number of errors in relation to the total number of requests. This doesn’t necessarily have to be a problem for all users, but it means the platform can struggle under a bigger load. Though, again, it’s not like Flywheel are marketing to high-load users.
🏆 Final Verdict
As with most products that are kind of complex by their very nature — which managed WordPress hosting certainly is — it’s hard to point out a single winner among the three: Kinsta vs Flywheel vs WP Engine.
That being said, I do have my favorites:
- For example, if you’re getting fewer than 5,000 visitors a month, and you want to move your site to managed WordPress hosting to see how much better the experience is compared with shared hosting, you’re probably going to choose Flywheel.
- If you’re getting somewhere in the 20,000 visits-a-month range, you’ll end up paying roughly the same with each company on this list — $30 or so. However, Kinsta offer more data center locations than the others, 24/7 support and a nice user panel — certainly easier to use than the one from WP Engine.
- Lastly, if you’re a freelancer who wants to get into hosting reselling or who just wants things to be easier when working with client sites, Flywheel seem like a better solution because they have built-in features for that very purpose.
Still, the best path to take when making your decision is to go through each of the sections above once again and pay special attention to the information inside the tables. See how much it costs to host X sites, what sort of traffic you can accept, what data centers you can choose from, what other features you get and so on.
📚 Further reading
- If you’d like to have a broader look at the world of managed WordPress hosting, here’s our big comparison of eight prominent companies in that space (including Kinsta, Flywheel and WP Engine).
- Here’s our in-depth Kinsta review.
- Here’s our in-depth Flywheel review.
- Here’s our in-depth WP Engine review.
Used/using — or thinking of using — any of these three hosts? Thoughts?