It’s been just over 2 years since Google bought ITA Software, the maker of the most widely used airfare search software. ITA Software has a very feature rich demonstration search product on their site, Matrix Airfare Search. However, as I wrote in a previous post on Matrix Airfare Search, it is a demonstration site. It is designed to show potential customers for the ITA Airfare Search product the power of their search engine. There was no way to buy a ticket on the Matrix Airfare Site, or even click a link to buy it elsewhere. That was not the purpose of the Matrix Airfare Search site.
Now Google has stepped more fully into the airfare search arena. Other search engines already have airfare search capabilities, but as with other types of search, Google is in this to do it better. The interface is very simple which is a hallmark of most Google search products, and the results are organized in a way that makes sense, but the winning feature of the Google/Flights search is the speed of the search and display. No spinning wheels while the search happens. No “please wait while the negotiator…” screen. Just pick a destination and the results show up for the default days before you can even select the day you want to travel. No “search again” feature to send you back to the beginning of the process, just pick different days, a different destination, a different starting point, and the new results are showing.
Although the search capability is simple you can also add filters, like a particular airline alliance (mileage plan), a single airline, time of day, number of stops, or intermediate stop location. Although those filter capabilities are handy they are not in the way until you want to use them. One filter interface that is particularly cool is the “limits” icon to the right of price and duration. It provides a graph of all the flights by price and duration. You can simply slide the edge of the shaded box on the limits graph to show only cheapest, or shortest, or the lowest priced flights below a certain duration limit. I really like the way this works.
Both Matrix Airfare Search and Google/Flights are powerful airfare search engines. Although the search method is different and results are presented differently, the biggest difference is that you can click a link to buy a ticket once you find a flight. If there is only one source to buy the ticket you are given a Book with button. If there are multiple airlines involved you have a choice of who which site to go to. What I haven’t seen yet is a choice to buy from an online travel site, although some of them and other competing airlines were showing in the ads on the right side of the page just like all other Google Search results pages.
It appears that Google/Flights will be a search option just like Web Search, Images, Maps, YouTube, News, Reader, Shopping, and Finance. In fact if you search in web search for “LAX to NYC” the results will include a set of Google/Flights results. This is very similar to the way YouTube videos and images will show up in a set of search results. Just like those results you have an option to click on the group and go to the larger set of results and the different search interface. For this particular search Google also labeled the results with “Sponsored” and an info icon, which informed me when I clicked it that “Google may be compensated by some of the providers”. This is another standard Google feature, always identify sponsored results.
I’ll give Google/Flights a real “test flight” the next time I’m looking for airline tickets. If you travel regularly and buy your own tickets, check out the new Google/Flights search capability. It will likely save you some time, possibly some money, and maybe even some aggravation.
Update March 16 2015. Google Flights has become my go to search when I plan to travel unless I’m going to use airline miles, then I go directly to the airlines site. The options change regularly so I recommend checking out the Google Travel Blog.