On September 13 Google released its new flight search tool that poses a challenge to Bing Travel and aggregate discount sites like Kayak and Orbitz, but how does Google Flight match up to its competitors?
Google has been inching its way into the travel and leisure market over the past year with its launch of hotel search and its recent acquisition of Zagat, the popular restaurant guide. Google Flight Search grew out of its acquisition of ITA Software, experts in organizing flight data, back in April 2011. According to Google, ITA’s software enables it to generate flight search results that are fast and well organized according to possible destinations and prices. “Flights are chosen primarily based on cost and total travel time, while covering a variety of departure times and airlines,” Kourosh Gharachorloo, Engineering Director, explains on Google’s Inside Search Blog. “We automatically set the filters to focus on options which are reasonable in both price and duration, and you can always adjust the filters to show even more flights.”
Amongst the search engines, Google’s biggest competitor in flight search is Bing Travel, which actually predates Bing itself. Microsoft acquired FareCast, a popular travel site that predicted the best time to buy a flight, back in April 2008 for a rumored $75 million. Microsoft then rebranded FareCast in 2009 as Bing Travel and featured it prominently in the launch of its new “decision engine”. In adddition to the traditional search engines, Google Flight also has to compete with the likes of Kayak, Travelocity and Expedia, which have loyal user bases and feature-rich search portals.
Let’s a closer look at the services to determine how Google Flights stacks up against its competition:
Design: Google has a knack for creating clean, simply designed products, and Google Flights is no exception. Users can search by clicking on destinations on the map or by typing in destinations, and drop-down filters can help narrow down searches based on total travel time and price. Results appear in a tidy linear fashion below the map. (Notice anything missing? As of now, there are no ads on Google Flights, but they’re sure to come…)
Speed: Again, as always, Google’s search is super fast. Flight results appear within seconds, whereas Bing, Kayak, Expedia and Travelocity tend to lag. (While writing this piece, I had to wait nearly a minute for results on Kayak.)
Features: Bing Travel and Kayak may seem cluttered in comparison to Google, but that’s largely because they offer a host of other services that Google Flight lacks, such as flight deals, low fare finds, and direct access to other travel search companies. Bing also offers its price predictor service.
Price Predictor- Bing’s price predictor feature is totally cool and unique to the site. It helps the user decide whether to buy now or wait based on their current flight search. Flexible on dates? Bing lets you know when the cheapest date to fly is. (Unfortunately, the feature is only available on flights for round trip economy flights to popular destinations.)
Filters- Google Flight does have a pretty cool looking matrix that filters flights by cost and duration compared to Kayak and Orbitz, which break down flight options according to the number of stops and airline.
Price: The prices across all these services are comparable. The key difference is that Bing, Kayak and others provide customers with access to multiple airlines and independent travel search companies, e.g., Vayama and CheapOair and other price comparison sites, e.g., Orbitz and Priceline. Google’s flight results only include flights from participating airlines, so the options are limited.
In its current form, Google really doesn’t stack up against the competition. It’s benefits are obvious: users can search from within Google, its search results are fast and Flights’ minimal design is consist with Google’s interface. Google Flights works well for flights between major U.S. cities. But comes up short once the itinerary becomes more complicated (e.g., one-way, multi-city trips, international flights, and small cities).
How do you currently search for flights?