Google has several very clear advantages over competitors: its mountains of data sets and the computing power to do something with them. That's the context of some of these incremental changes in Google Flights and hotel search. Slowly but surely, after much data crunching and testing, Google -- which already is one of the largest players in travel -- is enhancing its flight and hotel products for consumers and advertisers.
Plenty of flights apps these days inform users whether they expect airfares to rise or fall but Google Flights is taking its features one step further and notifying flyers when airfares will expire.
For a November 21 Delta flight from New York’s JFK airport to San Diego, for example, Google Flights lets users know that the airfare will likely expire in eight hours and a fare increase will kick in.
Google hopes to solve a pain point with these notifications: When travelers see an airfare and they are wondering if they can book it tomorrow instead of today and get the same price, now they’ll have more information about the timing of the airfare’s expected demise. Since the feature is just rolling out, it’s unclear whether Google will also display these notifications when it expects the flight prices to decline or just when Google expects the airfares to rise.
Converting lookers into bookers for Google’s airline and online travel agency partners would undoubtedly suffer if Google notifies users that the airfare is expected to decline in eight hours, for example.
“The first few years after Google’s acquisition of ITA Software [which was the foundation for Google Flights] were remarkable for how little the search giant was doing, at least publicly, with its $700 million purchase,” says Gillian Morris, founder of Hitlist. “But the last six months have seen the appearance of a new ‘discover’ interface and, now, alerts for when desirable fares are going to expire.
“As a consumer, it’s exciting to see the sleeping giant wake up. For competitors who haven’t been taking Google seriously, this should be another timely reminder that the Department of Justice-mandated restrictions on what Google can and can’t do with ITA are set to expire this year.”
Google is coy about how it determines when an airfare will expire, including whether it decides based on an historical analysis or other factors. On the other hand, many advance purchase airfares expire 28, 21, 14, seven or three days before departure so Google can notify consumers with a lots of confidence when a fare would expire under these scenarios.
Google Flights also provides a variety of tips for users who haven’t yet selected a specific flight. These tips include expected fare hikes based on historical pricing patterns for that route, and making recommendations about alternative airports and dates, as do other competitors. Google is in the process of introducing over the next few weeks notifications to users who opt in to receive updates about airfare changes and expirations.
Google is also introducing several new features into hotel search in its search engine. Among them, Google is labeling certain hotel rates as “Deals” when they fall below historical prices at these properties. Google’s algorithms generate these “Deals” characterizations: they are not something supplied by the hotels.
Like Expedia, Google is also enabling hoteliers to highlight property amenities such as free-Wi-Fi, spas, fine dining or loyalty promotions. For example, the Millennial Hotel in New York advertises “5-10% off plus free Wi-Fi with loyalty sign-up.”
These loyalty promotions are a way for hoteliers to promote quasi-direct bookings — via Google, of course.
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Photo credit: Google Flights is now informing users when an airfare will expire so they will know whether to book the flight or wait. Google