Google starts testing Flight Explorer - is this the future of travel search?
Ever since Google bought a company named ITA Software back in 2010 for a cool $700 million (aka pocket change for the big G) I've been wondering when they would start releasing some really interesting products into the travel space. There's just so much they could do with the majority of the world's airfare data, in ways that everyone else can only dream of.
Their first product, Google Flights wasn't a terrible first effort, and was a travel first in a few ways (especially speed) but I felt it really lacked the innovation of what was possible for a company that had access to so much data.
Well, Google just launched the test version of a product they're calling Flight Explorer and it has a few features that I've always dreamed of seeing in flight search technology as a travel enthusiast. I think the Google engineers are finally getting somewhere.
The interface is a simple one, but don't let that deceive you, this is an extremely powerful tool. Start by entering a destination into the 'To' box. Did you enter a specific city? That's so 2008. Try entering in the name of a province, or a country, or a continent, or even a region (eg: Scandinavia).
On your right you'll see a bar graphs with near instant results of real-time price data from the airlines, along with a picture of the destination (provided by another one of Google's acquisition's, Panoramio).
At the top you'll see a menu that lets you choose the number of stops, the airline alliance, and the duration. On your left, you can change your trip length.
All of this seems fairly simplistic to the casual observer, and that's the point. Think about how long it would take you to search all of the individual destinations in Asia, one by one, using an old-school flight search engine. It would involve a large number of individual searches. Now think of how long it would take you to search all the possible date combinations to all those destinations. This would take you hours, if not days.
Now think about what you'd have to do if you decided you wanted to try a different trip length, or change your number of stops. You'd have to start all over again. The real power here is how much data you're searching and filtering, at blazing speeds.
And what's really amazing is that Google isn't using cached data, they're the only one in the world that can do this sort of thing in real time, using live airfare prices. The amount of processing power required to do this is enormous of course, and that's why they're the only one that can do this sort of thing.
I have a feeling there will be a *lot* more innovation to come from Google in the travel space, especially now that Google has acquired Frommers. There's really no limit to the sorts of things they could do to help those who love to travel.
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