Monday, January 2, 2012

Flight Search -- the good parts and the less good parts...

Google recently launched a new FlightSearch tool.  It's a pretty nice thing, featuring very slick interactive widgets for visualizing the options you have (search for nearby alternate, maybe cheaper, airports; tradeoff time-to-fly vs. cost; and so on).  It really lets you rapidly explore the options available to you in a much faster way than I've seen on other travel sites.  

For instance: If you do a query on Google like [ SFO to ORD ] (San Francisco to Chicago), you'll get a search feature that pops up in the organic search results listing the top/best options for that flight. 
 Note that the thing in yellow is an ad placed there by the top bidder.  (In this case, Virgin America.)  
What I'm talking about is below the ad, starting with the first blue link.  If you click on that link, you'll shoot over to the FlightSearch tool. 

Once you're here, you can look at your options with the visualization tools. 

Map Tool:  If you click on the Map pin (just to the right of the "Chicago (ORD)" text), you'll get a map of the flight you're searching.  Trick to know:  If you click on the pins at either end of the flight, you can check out nearby airports.  In this case, my starting airport, SFO, is clearly cheaper than the other nearby alternates, so I'll stick with this. 

Calendar Tool: If you click on the Calendar tool icon (just to the right of the date line), you'll get a widget that lets you explore the various flight prices and dates.  (Watch the video below to see a demo.)  

Scatter Plot Tool:  This is my favorite as it lets me tradeoff flying time (which I want to minimize) and cost (which I also want to minimize)... With this interactive chart, I can pretty much focus in on what I want to know.  
Here you can see that I've moved the sliders (they're labeled "Duration: 5h 30m" and "Price: $244" in this image) to values that I like.  You can also see that there are plenty of crazy fares out there (look in the upper right corner:  that fare is $500 and over 7 hours... you DON'T want to be taking that flight).  

But there are things you should know. 

1. No international flights.  And yeah, although some might think Canada is domestic travel, Toronto and Vancouver really are international destinations.  You currently can't use FlightSearch to find travel to there (or, more probably, given the time of year, the Caribbean).  

2.  Not all airlines are listed.  In particular, neither JetBlue nor Southwest play with FlightSearch (there may be others I don't know about).  So if you're traveling to Long Beach (CA) or a place like Tucson (AZ) or Corpus Christi (TX), you might want to check out the Southwest site directly.  As far as I know, Southwest also doesn't play with Kayak, Expedia, or the rest of them.  (Note:  Some people have reported that not all domestic flights of the listed airlines are showing up.  I haven't seen that myself.  Let me know if you see a gap.)  

However, a good trick to know is that a Google search (such as [SFO to LGB] WILL show the airlines that fly point-to-point, even if they don't have individual flights listed... except for Southwest...  You have to check them by hand...)  

Search on!

Video demo: 

1 comment:

  1. I like the new flights search a lot. However, in combination with original ITA Matrix flight it is supremely better. What is missing from "Flight Search" is a truly flexible search ie, I would like to visit TX sometime in the next couple of months. I can stay between 3-6 night but would like a great deal on flights. Flight Search does a good job with finding cheapest for 'x' number of nights, but not so much with absolute best deal with a variety of length of stays.