This morning I found waiting on my daily reading list, three identical posts from three different news websites about a minor improvement on Google Flight Search, and the first thought that crossed my mind was an old English proverb – “empty vessels make the loudest noise”. Every few months there is a new update from Google Flight Search on the Google Inside Search blog, and hundreds of tech blogs scamper trying to become the first one to get the word out, however insignificant the news maybe. Yet, nobody talked when Bing Travel added cheapest airfares or price prediction. The Wall Street Journal had a story published in December 2011 touting Google’s “newest push into online travel” and how it “has begun to roil the industry.” Bing gets mentioned somewhere in the midway but there is nothing that says anything about Bing’s constant threat to travel sites like Kayak, Expedia and Travelocity since it’s inception.
People have been ignoring the elephant in the room for far too long. It’s Bing people, not Google that wins in travel search, and as a tech blogger I feel it’s my duty to get the records straight.
Bing Travel launched at the about the same time as Bing itself. Bing is not just a search engine; it’s a Decision Engine. No, I didn’t make up that term. Microsoft said it in a press release dated May 2009.
Microsoft Corp. today unveiled Bing, a new Decision Engine and consumer brand, providing customers with a first step in moving beyond search to help make faster, more informed decisions. ……
Microsoft’s research identified shopping, travel, local business and information, and health-related research as areas in which people wanted more assistance in making key decisions. The current state of Internet search isn’t optimized for these tasks, but the Bing Decision Engine is optimized for these key customer scenarios. For example, while a consumer is using Bing to shop online, the Sentiment Extraction feature scours the Internet for user opinions and expert reviews to help leverage the community of customers as well as product experts in trying to make a buying decision. In Bing Travel, the Rate Key compares the location, price and amenities of multiple hotels and provides a color-coded key of the best values, and the Price Predictor actually helps consumers decide when to buy an airline ticket in order to get the lowest prices.
So let us take a look at Bing Travel.
Bing Travel – The Only Flight Search Tool You’ll Ever Need
Whether it’s a family vacation or a business tour, all travel begins with a flight, so when you land on Bing Travel you are taken straight to the flight search page. This is identical to any flight search/comparison service you may have used before. You enter the starting city and the destination, pick dates for leave and return, number of persons travelling and the class. Unlike Google, you can start and end anywhere in the world, not just within the United States.
The main results show you the flight and the price arranged from lowest to highest. You can see the departure and arrival timings, and the number of intermediate stops if any. From the left column you can filter the results by price, number of stops (direct flights), timing and the flight operator of your choice.
The data comes from several complete and partial airfare information sources that includes millions of round-trip, priced flight itineraries extending up to a 180-day period, encompassing trip lengths up to 21 nights and span over 2500 combinations of U.S. origins to domestic and international destinations.
The grid view of flight timings gives you a birds eye view of all available flights by time and price.
Once you have chosen a flight, click on it and you will be taken to Kayak.com, and then shortly routed directly to the operator’s website for booking. Although the prices are shown in USD on Bing, it will be automatically converted to your local currency when you arrive at the booking page.
Flyers in the US and Canada have access to additional features such as the Price Predictor, Rate Indicator, Flexible search and airfare deals.
Bing Travels’ Price Prediction works by simulating passengers buying airfares based upon prices from real data and then tallying up the results of the outcomes of recommendations made to thousands of simulated passengers. Based on the predictions, select cities and airfares are highlighted indicating whether the lowest fare for a trip is rising or dropping over the next seven days.
Clicking on “Details & fare history” presents you more data such as the confidence level of the prediction and how much you are going to lose if the prediction fails.
At the bottom of the travel home page, there is a flexible search form for comparing fares for flights departing from select US cities within a 30-day range. Submit a destination on the form on the left and click on “Find dates” to land on the Graph View. In this section, you can see yesterday’s lowest available fare for multiple destinations across 30 departure dates. On the graph itself, you can click any data point to see the lowest fare amount.
You can also submit a destination of all cities in the form on the right to see yesterday’s lowest available fare for multiple destinations all at once in the Map view. On the map itself, you can zoom in and out of different areas, click and drag the map to move it around, and click a price flag to find out the travel dates for that low fare.
When you travel to some place you have to stay somewhere, so Bing Travel also includes hotel search. You submit the destination city and get results of hotels operating within or just outside the city. The results can be filtered by amenities such as air-conditioning, bar/lounge and car rentals, hotel rating, price and distance from a particular location.
A Rate Indicators shows you whether the rate for a specific hotel is a deal by comparing the hotel’s current rate to its past rates.
Bing Travel is a good replacement for your local flight comparison search tool, no matter on which part of the world you reside, and for the frequent flyers it’s a superb tool to make savings.
To be fair, it’s ridiculous to compare Google Flight Search with Bing Travel, the former is just taking baby steps while the latter is a mature service. I’m actually happy to see Microsoft doing well in this department, despite having less than a quarter of Google’s search market. With Bing ahead in the competition, Google will have to remain content playing the catch-up game. It also doesn’t help that Google is restricting their service only to the US, meaning it’s pretty much useless for the majority of air travellers.