Google today launched the first iteration of its new flight search feature that will allow users to find cheap airfares right from the Google interface without having to go through sites like Orbitz, Kayak or Expedia. For now, this feature is still somewhat limited and only supports major U.S. airports. The potential, here, however, is huge and even though this is a first version of this product, the service’s features easily rival (and sometimes surpass) those of sites like Kayak. The feature is fast, smart and will put a lot of pressure on the incumbents in this business.
A few months ago, after a long regulatory delay, Google finally closed on its acquisition of ITA Software, a major supplier of IT solutions for airlines and travel services (including Orbitz and many major U.S.-based airlines). This flight search feature is the first fruit of this acquisition and finally gets Google a strong foothold in the travel market – a potentially lucrative market that Google, for some reason, waited a long time to enter.
There are obviously already plenty of flight booking services out there, ranking from Kayak to Hipmunk. For the most part, Google offers the same feature set to search for flights and lets you filter by airline, airline alliance, departure time, etc.
Google, however, is using some smart visualization features to get ahead of the competition. You can, for example, easily compare flight duration and price on a scatter graph and then use the built-in slider to filter out flights that are too long or expensive. The list of available flights is then updated in real time.
There are also advanced tools, including the ability to search for multiple nearby airports and the ability to discover days when tickets are the cheapest. You can also easily compare the prices on different dates.
Verdict: A Winner
While still limited by the low number of airports it currently supports, it’s already clear that Google has a winner on its hands here. In testing the service, it quickly becomes clear that it is faster and easier to use than Kayak and similar services.