Google Flights: Virtual Travel Agent?

Google Flights allows you to search by interest, date, and destination
Google Flights allows you to search by interest, date, and destination

Google Flights: A Game Changing New Tool for Travelers

 Google Flights has changed the game of online booking.
Google Flights has changed the game of online booking.

By Shannon Broderick

Scattered over the internet are scores of flight-finding websites, all promising the same things—that they will find you the absolute dirt cheapest flight.

So the problem becomes choosing which website to use—Expedia? Kayak? Cheapflights? Travelocity?   Anyone who has had to do flight research is likely to have wished for a simpler and easier way to find this information. For many people, it’s that the sites give too many options, and it’s all confusing.

An internet giant has recently emerged, however as a serious competitor for these well-established sites. Google Flights doesn’t just find you the most affordable tickets—it assists in planning the entire trip, transforming the way that people travel.  This development may be bad news for people in the travel booking business, but for consumers, this makes your next trip a little easier.

Google Flights has been around since 2011, when, according to a Wired article,  they purchased ITA Software, a Cambridge, MA-based company responsible for Matrix, a public airfare search engine. While there were initial questions raised about antitrust issues (because ITA licensed software to several different flight search sites like Kayak), it was approved by the Justice Department that year

While Google Flights has existed for five years,  the site was revamped in 2015 to provide a more streamlined experience and was further updated earlier this month—so what’s new?

Planning your perfect trip 

google flights
Google Flights logo

Most travel websites that focus on finding you the cheapest flight assume one thing in particular—that you know where you want to go, and when. But what if you were unsure of what you wanted to do, or didn’t have a specific week in mind?

This is where Google Flights comes in. On the landing page, there are options to plug in your airport, location, and dates of choice—like many other flight-finding websites. Below, however, Google Flights gives you some other options that users would be hard-pressed on other sites.

For example, if you wanted to go somewhere for a week in April, Google Flights would display a list of cities with the cheapest airfare available—flying out of Logan, you could go to London for $510, or Chicago for $90, or Montreal for $220.

Click on the link, and Google sends you through to the list of available flights—so even if you don’t like the details of the cheapest flight (maybe there’s a long layover, or no free checked baggage)—there is a list of other competitively-priced flights also going to London or Chicago or Montreal that same week. Users can also search by continent—so if you are looking to jet off to Europe or South America, but are unsure of what country to visit, Google can help you decide which destination is the most affordable.

Another very interesting feature—one that’s perfect for people who don’t know where to begin planning their trip—is the ‘interest’ filter. Google provides several different options—Adventure travel, beaches, culture, ecotourism, food, honeymoon, islands, nature, outdoor recreation, shopping, wildlife and winter sports—and travelers can approach planning their trip through these options.

Looking for a one week trip to Europe, focusing in on eco-tourism? Google suggests going to Glaskogen or Drangedal, flying into Oslo April 8 for $389. Do you have two weeks in June free, to check out the culture of South America? According to Google, you can visit Bogota, Colombia from June 9-22, where there are concerts, culture, music, museums, architecture and markets to keep you busy—for a mere $481.

Other features

In addition to trip planning, Google has a host of different features—little things that prove themselves to be very useful.

Travelers can see if their flight has WiFi
Travelers can see if their flight has WiFi

Each listing states whether or not the flight in question has wifi and plugs available.Some airlines, like Lufthansa, allow travelers to book directly through Google.

Travelers can see if their flight has WiFiTravelers can filter their search by alliances, in particular, Oneworld, SkyTeam, and Star Alliance, so that they can plan their trips depending on whether or not they have miles or points to redeem.

Google Flights also provides lists of hotels available in the area, which can be filtered by price, rating, amenities and class. The page displays the list accompanied with a map, so travelers can see where the hotels are located and their price.

Feeling lucky? Click “I’m Feeling Lucky” on the map and Google will choose the location for your next trip based on your search history, with a graph to show you when flights will be cheapest.

What are people saying?

Max Hartshorne, the editor of GoNOMAD, cited a few examples of his readers who have been using Google flights and are now enthusiastic fans. One fellow travel editor said he always used to use Kayak but that the interface was too complex, there were simply too many choices.

“The way Google Flights presents the different airline options is simpler and easier to use. And having the prices show up all over the map is new, something that really simplifies things and can point out alternative airports that might not come to mind.”

Hartshorne also said that one of their travel writers planned a recent trip to Guadalupe, simply because she found such an outstanding low fare ($99 roundtrip) to the island she could not pass it up.

“We never planned on going to Guadaloupe, but when we saw that killer fare from LaGuardia, we decided that was the island we would visit.  Combine the great fare with a fantastic Air BnB condo, and they got a sun-drenched winter vacation for peanuts!” She now uses Google flights to help her friend’s book trips!

What do the travel agencies say?

There is no question that Google Flights is transforming the way that people book their flights and plan their trips. But can a search engine replace the experience of a travel agent? Some say yes—Huffington Post even wrote a post titled “6 Google Flights Tricks That Are Better Than Any Travel Agent.” But Vicky Puza-Allen, a travel agent with Easthampton Travel, disagrees.

According to Puza-Allen, flight finder sites like Kayak, Hipmunk, and—yes, Google Flights—are considered third party search engines, meaning that travelers are not dealing directly with the airline, which, in some cases, can be problematic. If there’s ever a problem with a flight—cancellation, rescheduling, or overbooking—Puza-Allen said that travelers are usually out of luck.

“There is no phone number to call those websites,” she comments. “There’s no one to go to if something goes wrong.”

And travel agents, Puza-Allen argues, can help travelers rebook their flight and resume their vacation before other travelers using third-party sites can even find a way to begin to remedy their problem.

And, according to Puza-Allen, travel agents will never go out of style.  Forbes magazine agrees since they published this article “Ten Reasons why You Still Need a Travel Agent.

“People prefer a personal touch or service…who actually care, [instead of a] computer,” she says. “As a travel agent….we’re that person.”

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Shannon Broderick

Shannon Broderick

Shannon Broderick is a former editorial assistant at GoNOMAD and a recent graduate at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. During her undergraduate career, Shannon attended three different schools in two different countries--the United States and Germany. She works as a news photographer in Laramie, Wyoming.