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Google to Offer a Best Price Guarantee on Certain Flights (blog.google)
424 points by momentmaker 16 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 211 comments

Say what you want about Google/Alphabet as a whole, but Google Flights is incredible. It's absolutely amazing how quickly and largely that Google crushed all its competitors in terms of usability. Kayak, Hipmunk, Orbitz, Skyscanner were all my go-to's at one point but G.Flights is far superior in so many ways. It actually remembers your airline preference between searches. You don't have to beg or change settings to see a few days before or after... every search has a date grid and long-term graph, both which respond almost immediately to additional changes to date ranges. Searching multiple airports or destinations is super easy. Plus the calendar view, with lowest price for every day -- sure other sites have it but only for unfiltered searches. Google's calendar view is updated with every filter change.

There was a time in the 90s when eAAsySabre was publicly available to anyone, and text based searches were simple and fast and so easy. But Google Flights is even better, IMO.

Pretty amazing that sites entirely dependent on travel search seem satisfied with 10-year old UI while Google showed how much better it could be.

I agree that its real-time inventory and pricing availability has been a total game changer in the UX department. Presumably their acquisition of ITA gave them the ability to respond to queries in real-time which enabled all of the (quite excellent) features you pointed out above.

There's just one problem -- because a ton of the data is cached, or precomputed, or however it's done, a substantial and frustrating amount of the data is simply wrong. As in, an unbookable flight. I spend probably an unreasonable amount of time searching for flights, and anecdotally I'd say about 5-10% of the results I get (not even for complex itineraries) either have a completely incorrect price, or are wholly unbookable on any website. Calling the airline doesn't count, because if their website doesn't have it, 99% chance neither will the call center.

For example, one from a few hours ago: https://www.google.com/flights/?f=0#f=0&flt=/m/01lfy./m/02_2...

ITA's customers before the Google acquisition were not interested in sharing large infrastructure that would make contiguous querying (as opposed to on demand when a consumer searches), presumably mostly for cost reasons.

The QPX search engine is actually the same behind Google flights and all the airlines and what Orbitz used to use. The limitation pre google/flights was the on-demand querying only.

Now the contiguous querying, obviously, gives you a load of useful historical data. After running it for a couple of years now they seem to feel confident that they can predict prices changes with enough accuracy that the payouts for misses will be an acceptable price for the publicity, or increased use of their other travel products.

(disclaimer: ex-ITA/Xoogler, opinions my own)

This is actually very difficult. The data has to be sourced from somewhere, which would be the airlines. The airlines have fragile backends that cannot handle much load. As a result, Google has to be very selective in their query volume, so they try to cache intelligently.

The result is that sometimes the information they display can be out of sync with airlines. You should notice this issue more on rarer flight routes.

> The data has to be sourced from somewhere, which would be the airlines.

Such nonsense.

Pretty much all airlines don't own/run the source of truth for their flights and haven't for decades. They outsource that to GDS[1] such as Sabre and Amadeus. Their backends are not fragile.

You just have to pay for every query thus the caching.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Global_distribution_system

I get the same thing (not sure to what percent level) and LOTS of times the price after I click through is not what Google listed by the link.

My solution so far is to search for broad prices for my approximate dates on Google, and when I see something promising open a new tab and go straight to the airline's site where I search for an actual offer for a specific flight.

I've found Google Flights super useful this way, though I guess they make less money on me than they could.

> Presumably their acquisition of ITA gave them the ability to respond to queries in real-time which enabled all of the (quite excellent) features you pointed out above.

Perhaps, but I was never impressed with Orbitz during its heyday. I remember watching a Google tech talk* about how hard a problem it is to give the searcher a viable set of options to chose from. However, in my experience, the viable set of options always seemed to include a 23 hr layover with with multiple connections that was $200 cheaper than the nonstop option, and various single connection 1hr layover options about $150 cheaper than nonstop. At the time, both Expedia and Travelocity offered a more reasonable set of options.

* can't seem to find it right now. Will post if able to locate later.

The talk you're looking for is probably this: http://www.demarcken.org/carl/papers/ITA-software-travel-com...

When this happens, go to https://matrix.itasoftware.com and find the specific itinerary you're looking for, which will give you the specific fare codes, etc. which you should use to book. I believe this ticket is available, it's just that the people you're speaking with can't find it in their system (that said, you don't say what fare you saw, so it's hard for me to be sure I see the same fare you do). Specifically, the bit under "Fare Construction".

Fare Construction (can be useful to travel agents) CPH SK X/MAN VS NYC 500.77HLHF06MN NUC 500.77 END ROE 6.637696 XT 161ZO 167UB 39YC 47XY 27XA 124US 646YQ

I wish that Google Flights would offer a way to get this info in the UI; it's not common but not greatly unusual to be in this position (where Flights can find the fare but the UIs available to consumers can't book it).

(disclaimer: I work at Google, but no relationship with the Flights team other than as an individual user)

Funny story: just last week I was booking a complicated multi-city trip with 5 legs, multiple countries, etc. I tried several times via united.com, and it wasn't showing me any flights available in one of the legs (which I knew they had a codeshare agreement).

I went back to Google Flights, chose all my flights, selected "Book with United", and was able to finish the reservation on united.com (!), with all the flights properly populated, including codeshares.

It's remarkable that the integration between Google Flights and the airlines is better than even the airlines' websites themselves.

I’m not too surprised by this. The function of every form, wizard, walk-thru, or guided app is to end up with a blob of data to post to the backend. While the blob could be relatively simple, e.g. iCal for recurring event, the UI can be extremely complicated because every valid combination must be achievable but all invalid combinations must be blocked. Google Flights UI is better than United at coming up with the right data blob to post. Once the blob is created, United final page and backend have no problem parsing and posting it.

Sounds like a P/NP-type problem. It's quite a hard problem to calculate all possible permutations of routings and schedules across 5 cities ("NP"), and United's system clearly isn't up to snuff for it, while Google's is.

But validating and pricing any single itinerary is a trivially easy problem ("P"), so United can handle that no problem. It can't come up with the itinerary, but given a particular one, it will sell it to you.

On multi-city trips, usually the UI allows the user to select each leg individually, so it is a very trivial problem (i.e., the same as 5 one way trips).

So no, there's no special magic here.

I found out that Google Flights just have smaller time margins between flights. Might be something to look out for.

This has now become a pattern. Google throws resources on some execs whims, kills off competitors and after a while exec cashes out, thanks to their rewards system. The left over bunch then figures out that the thing is not as profitable so they must either kill off their own product or let it stagnate into oblivion. Customers now are left with dead bodies and long recovery period before investor fears wears off and replacements arrives. This scorched earth approach has left too many areas without good products, growth and investments.

Google Flights is destined to be on chopping block sooner or later. It has not much influence on core business and is not going to be wildly profitable. The problem is that by the time Google kills it, Kayak and other competitors would be forced in to unrecoverable comma or just outright killed off as well.

Was your last sentence written with the recognition that Kayak's parent company Booking Holdings (formerly Priceline) has an 80 billion market cap, and made 5.3 billion in operating profit last year? True, Google is 10x larger but Kayak has significant resources to compete.

> Google Flights is incredible. It's absolutely amazing how quickly and largely that Google crushed all its competitors in terms of usability.

Really? I've yet to see a flight be cheaper or close to what the likes of Kayak and Skyscanner have provided.

You are right. In fact Google flights is regularly missing some airlines. Also the flights I found are often great on Google but then not available when actually trying to book, making the site quite a bit useless.

What sets it apart is the UI and fast search. But I guess with fast searching (caching) comes inaccurate results. It’s a thin line.

I'm always curious about where these sites source their prices from. Do the airlines provide a backend with real-time prices? Are they scraped from the frontend? Do these sites sell at a loss sometimes in "guaranteeing" a lower price?

I've known of a service that actually provides APIs. I cannot remember what it is called but such services exist for hotels and holidays too.

Iirc I stumbled upon one of the flight tracking services by pure chance.

Having said that, I feel like Skyscanner at the very least has their own systems in place. There have been times where I've chosen a ticket, have gone through to the website that sells the ticket at the price, and just before it goes through, Skyscanner validates that the price still exists, and then bails saying the price has increased or decreased. Usually it's not by a lot, but it has happened.

Have you tried Kiwi.com? I think they are still superior in some aspects of UI/UX than the competition. They allow you for example to select a range of dates for your departure/arrival instead of single date. They also give you ability to choose multiple departure/arrival points. And these points can be cities, regions or countries. I have not seen other websites that give you that kind of flexibility.

Another vote for Kiwi. Using circles for to search in multiple departure locations is currently unmatched.

It's funny, I've had exactly the opposite experience.

Multiple times flying from random places in Africa to Australia return, and Australia to Canada, GFlights was at least $1k more than the cheapest on kayak or orbitz.

Maybe GFlights just doesn't show overly cheap options..?

Google Flights won’t show all OTA options, primarily the ones with unreliable reputations. SkyScanner, for example, will scrape the bottom of the barrel to find options to save that final couple of bucks (which is perfectly fine) but if you have problems with the ticketing post-booking, you will wish you didn’t go that route.

It's actually not that amazing- they bought out ITA Matrix and just iterated on top of it.

They added the last important missing feature from ITAMatrix, which was a direct link to a prefilled checkout page. That part is nice.

Also speed, it is much faster. But it has all started with the purchase of the main route planning software (ITA), essentially a purchase of a monopoly.

The UI is so smooth that I visit almost daily and just punch in cities to see what itineraries come up. I just moved to New York and I'm having a blast seeing all the new nonstop destinations I have.

I actually find Google Flights pretty confusing. Haven't tried it recently though. Kayak works pretty well for me and I usually go to the airline's website to book directly when I find a good deal. If the price is the same I book via the airline website. For domestic flights I also check southwest.com since they don't work with Kayak and other travel sites.

Don't be surprised that many other travel sites cannot compete. After all, most of the sites are owned by either Expedia or Priceline. They are not startups. Also, they focus more on hotels since that's where the money is.

...and Google's hotel search is starting to supersede the legacy sites in ease of use and speed, just like Flights has.

Google Flights is amazing, because... Expedia bought up everything else. (Kayak, Orbitz, TripAdvisor, etc.) I've had Expedia do horrible things to me so I'm dedicated to use an alternative. It is needed to have Google Flights be a great competitor.

Expedia does not own Kayak or TripAdvisor. There is actually a lot of competition in the space. Last thing anyone needs is Google or Amazon stepping into yet another market.

> There is actually a lot of competition in the space.

Is there?

Expedia Group owns: Expedia, Ebookers, Orbitz, and Travelocity.

Booking Holdings owns: Priceline, Agoda, Kayak, Momondo, and Cheapflights.

Ctrip Group owns: Trip.com, and SkyScanner.

One of the good test case for any flight booking website is Bhutan. Kayak seems to do good job while G Flights says nothing available. Also later doesn’t seem to allow flexible dates, a critical feature if you ask me.

I used to think it was great but it’s no different than an Expedia, which is what my wife uses.

Earlier this week Google had fewer flights than Expedia.

Ditto. GFlights is the best flight planner, especially if you're flexible and want the cheapest day to fly in/out.

I love Google Flights as well, though I wish they had something like Kayak Trips. My understanding is they kind of do have that with automatic flight booking scanning in gmail, but it's impossible to add information manually in there. A lot of stuff is missing for me at least.

I routinely find both better routes and prices using Kayak, and it has far more powerful filtering. Mostly intercontinental flights though. I wouldn't be surprised if Google is better tuned to US domestic flights.

Once their algorithm can predict prices to a certain level of accuracy, they can effectively offer investment hedging to the public for free, and use the publicity to drive commissions on referrals. Unlike other commodities whose value is subject to numerous economic forces, the pricing is set directly (by the airlines), and it is likely that simply by observing their pricing over time a sophisticated Google algorithm has "learned" the airline's less sophisticated ones.

> it is likely that simply by observing their pricing over time a sophisticated Google algorithm has "learned" the airline's less sophisticated ones

Simple systems acting in concert are devilishly complex. (Former algorithmic trader.)

Counterparties' systems fail. They misfire. They get confused by the weather and interns punching in parameters wrong. Internal dynamics, like someone stretching to hit a goal or getting lucky on a hedging contract, are material and unpredictable.

And that's the least of it. The limits on the sorts of adversarial behaviors that manifest when counterparties know you have an algorithm watching are profound. It incentivises betting against the watchman. Google may have the data. But the airlines control the book.

Does anyone know enough about airline pricing to deconstruct the risk here? Are providers like Google required to disclose the underlying airline price, so Google is absorbing your risk of regret on that? If not, and Google has discretion in what to quote, isn't this guarantee really just a promise not to offer you a better price later?

I work with airline pricing but I'm no expert on that (this vertical is ridiculously complex. Half for necessary reasons and half because of 70 years of technical baggage), and I'm also no legal expert. So take everything here with a million grains of salt.

But I do not believe so. From my experience airlines are extremely strict about their partners displaying correct pricing. I've been told displaying a price lower than what is available is illegal / a liability and work under that assumption but I'm not the person who knows the specifics. However displaying a price higher than the lowest available will also get us in big trouble with the airlines. Maybe my work is biased since I deal with promotional campaigns and ads, but the general reason for a complaint will be something like (just making up fake examples) the airline having a 24-hour sale, and because we our systems didn't pick up on that for 2 hours so that's 1/12 their marketing budget thrown away.

Furthermore, many airlines don't directly manage their own booking and pricing and instead have it managed by a third party. So aside from legality and conditions from the airline, you can also be bound to conditions by your reservation system. There are plenty of them, but if you want one to Google for your curiosity Sabre Corporation is the largest.

It seems to me that Google probably expects to lose some money, but they've decided it's worth it to buy some market share for their new product.

I am so lost as to what you are trying to say. What is your point?

Google does have a tremendous advantage if it controls the _flow_( sending traffic/customers to airlines) versus the airline's having control of the book.

> What is your point?

It's not a simple problem. It's unlikely Google has it remotely solved.

> Google does have a tremendous advantage if it controls the _flow_( sending traffic/customers to airlines) versus the airline's having control of the book

Google is one of many online travel agents for airlines. It doesn't control the flow.

"Controlling the book" means airlines know who has booked how many tickets and at what price. They control how many tickets are left. They control whether and when a flight flies. They control prices.

Reselling tickets is a distribution problem. Guaranteeing prices is a trading problem. Google has a pitch with the former. It holds few cards with the latter. The only stick it holds to dissuade aggressive behavior from airlines is cutting them off from its distribution.

There have been hedging services for the public. One of them was bought and killed by M$:


But can't the airlines then introduce random price spikes into their own algorithm just to abuse Google?

Wouldn't it have to be a price drop for google to be out any money? It's a low price guarantee, so price spikes would only make them look good. Airlines aren't going to randomly drop prices to spite google...

It would cost them almost nothing to drop the price of their remaining economy seats 33 minutes before departure on a few select flights where Google sold many tickets.

That would be such a rookie mistake. Airlines don't do that, because 1) it creates bad habits with passengers 2) that's when the ticket has the highest value for customer who need to travel NOW 3) if they have remaining economy seats, a price drop 33 minutes before departure has little effect in stimulating demand for most destinations.

How many people are in a position to make a purchase decision, buy a ticket, and make the flight when the price drops 33 minutes before departure (13 minutes before boarding ends)?

In June, I was literally in CVG airport (inside of security) when my Delta flight was delayed. I decided not to book a ticket on United that was leaving in ~35 minutes because I wasn't sure that I could get over to the other terminal before boarding closed. (It also wasn't 100% clear that the United flight was going to make the connection in DC because of weather that was also screwing up Delta.)

Probably people that miss their flight and are either already in the terminal or past security would like to book it? That’s the only use case I can think of

> But can't the airlines then introduce random price spikes into their own algorithm just to abuse Google? reply

If they only guarantee the price of the same airline (which make sense considering that different airline offer different quality of service), then that would just hurt Google once without benefiting the airline and in fact, it would hurt the airline in Google.

The terms are clear: When we predict the price won’t decrease for select itinerarie

If airlines have unpredictable random price spikes, then they won't be able to qualify for the price guarantee. Having that guarantee seems like a good value add and may bring more customer toward theses offers. I don't know if Google would place theses airline higher in the result, but it would make sense because that's something that someone may prefer.

They do already. I once got a $260 AI round trip from Newark, NJ, USA to Cologne, Germany. There were only a few seats per flight available at that price and I got it at 3am.

It was part of their usual shady promotions where they say "flights from $199" and there are really only a couple of seats available at that price, and they go fast.

That's not a random price spike, that's a sale. Customers love sales and hate random price spikes.

I see, okay, that was my engineering brain considering spikes to be either negative or positive ...

This will abuse the airline's other customers as well. Nobody likes prices that jump around wildly for no reason.

Any algo that does this will know what noise is.

Exactly, noise can be removed or heavily in many problems and in this case you would then just upset regular customers.

That's not quite what this is.

The 'best price guarantee' guarantees the customer will receive the lowest price for their ticket. Google will refund them if anyone gets a lower price.

The airline can release, for 30 seconds only, a much lower price. Then Google has to refund all their customers, and the airline might only sell a handful of tickets at the lower price.

Remember airline tickets aren't fungible. They have names attached, and can't be resold, so nobody can buy up thousands of tickets in a price dip and resell.

This seems like something you could easily cover in the terms of service. Remember that law doesn't really work like programming does.

30 seconds seem to be at least somewhat covered by their ToS.

"Prices are measured between the purchase date and the departure date of your eligible itinerary." [1]

The key things to interpret there are "between" and "departure date". For example, I would interpret that as price changes on the day of the flight don't count. (i.e between is exclusive and date means the date, not date and time).

[1] https://travel.google.com/intl/ALL_us/booking/flights/guaran...

Then google would buy all those tickets at the reduced value and resell them at the normal price.

Tickets are generally non-transferable and cheap ones are non-refundable. So unless google can predict the name of the future buyer it’ll be out of luck.

I think they have deals with carriers to bulk buy tickets without giving a name. Carrier gets cash upfront (most are desperate for cash). Google gets to play marketmaker.

The airlines really are shooting themselves in the foot though... Google will end up with the biggest slice of the pie...

Except it might be 30 seconds before the plane departs...

Is this the same airline that likes appearing in Google Flight because lots of customers book tickets through it?

> To see your trips and travel research, turn on these settings: Private results, Web & app activity

This is the main reason why I will never be able to use www.google.com/travel. I used to use the Trips app with no search history, but Google is shutting down Trips in favor of forcing people to loosen privacy settings. It is very disappointing because Trips worked very well.

Ah yes, same as my new Pixel. Apparently to be able to give me temperature in Celsius instead of Fahrenheit, Google would like to know every app activity and usage as well as everywhere I have been. This sort of privacy bundling really should not be allowed.

That sounds like a GDPR violation.

As long as it's declared upfront, it's legit.

That's not strictly true. The GDPR contains language that potentially requires you to actually need the data you ask for to "enable" a feature. You could claim you need location to determine Temperature and Currency units for example, but not access to my contacts. Now, how all this holds up, I'm not sure

> Consent is presumed not to be freely given if it does not allow separate consent to be given to different personal data processing operations despite it being appropriate in the individual case, or if the performance of a contract, including the provision of a service, is dependent on the consent despite such consent not being necessary for such performance.

https://gdpr-info.eu/art-7-gdpr/ https://gdpr-info.eu/recitals/no-43/

Agreed. Requiring consent for such a basic feeling feels like data extortion to me, there's stuff about that in various GDPR implementations.

How do you want Google to show you your trips and your travel research (e.g search queries) if you disable search history?

If you don't want to see your search history (since you seem adamant on disabling it), then just use the other features on google.com/travel (destination/hotel/flight search).

It's ridiculous because they don't need your location history to search for static content that they already have saved in their databases. The exact same behavior happens with maps: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19809432

Google is shameless about gimping their services unless you hand over gross amounts of irrelevant personal information.

I think the answer is in your question:

Why would search history be related to travel history? Can't they be decoupled?

You realize that's a ridiculous framing of reasonable objection? The real question is why do they "need" things like your location and web search history to offer this for your past flight searches.

I use TripIt ever since Trips was shutdown. While it doesn't do everything, it does quite a lot (have all reservations etc in one place).

TripIt is a lifesaver for me. I'm sure I'd mess up a lot more than I do if I didn't have an app like TripIt.

My only material beef is that I think it could do a better job of flagging possible oversights in your itinerary. "Umm Dave, I'm afraid you don't seem to have anyplace to stay on Wednesday night."

On complicated trips, I actually print out a calendar grid and make notes by hand. It would be nice if TripIt had a month calendar view that let you look at things that way.

You can export your Tripit itinerary as an .ical and use it with your favorite calendaring app.

Ah thanks. I either didn't know that or I tried it and it didn't really help. I'll take a look at it again on my next long trip.

But basically I'd like TripIt to flag possible problems rather than have me depend on eyeballing it--even though that works OK most of the time.

The printing out of calendar pages is more for trip planning. TripIt doesn't (and isn't really intended to do) anything along those lines.

Based on this recommendation, I signed up, but gracious, the UI is bad.

Ah yah it’s a flashback and not in a good way.

I use and love TripIt but only like this:

0. Subscribe to my personal TripIt calendar feed.

1. Book flight, car, hotel, whatever.

2. Forward booking confirmation to plans@tripit.com.

3. Now all those details are in my calendar.

What’s particularly useful is how it handles time zones. Flights seem to ‘just work’, and in the notes for any appointment it’ll tell you the local arrival & departure times anyway.

You can try kayak trips. I used to use tripit and switched to kayak, the UI is way better.

I am getting close to a point where I think I just need to setup a separate gmail account for my relationship with Google.

Google flights, maps, search: Use this new gmail account My other communication: Use my existing gmail account

I could use two browsers, but it may be easier to just use 2 tabs in a single browser (I use firefox to access gmail).

Wonder if that will make life easier, or worse. Thoughts?

Google putting the finishing touches om the ITA software acquisition.


But oddly closed google trips, which frankly was decent. Google sometimes seems like incoherent.

During my business/tech econonomics class in college in 2010, one of the main course assignments was to argue for or against the ITA acquisition from a judicial perspective (i.e. would it create a monopoly).

No one in the class could really argue against it because as far as monopolies that Google could possibly create, that's pretty minor. A decade later, almost everyone seems to have forgotten that Google did it.

What is Hipmunk using underneath?

I believe they all use several of the services. I worked at one of the airline booking sites and know they used Sabre and ITA as well as others.


>No one in the class could really argue against it because as far as monopolies that Google could possibly create, that's pretty minor.

That’s really goofy reasoning. Just because google is huge and could do much more evil doesn’t mean that a small amount of evil (destroying the airline itinerary quote market) is ok. Is that what you meant to say?

The airline industry quote market is very much not dead though.... Skyscanner, kayak, etc...

Do you know what they are using under the hood?

Here’s an interesting podcast ep about flight data: https://www.kassenzone.de/2019/08/04/wer-gewinnt-bei-flugsuc...

Intro text is German, audio and transcription are English

Thanks, that sounds very interesting - will check it out!

I think most of them either still use old versions of ITA software (it was sold like traditional software, not an ongoing license), or they're rolling their own.

how do you know this?

Sabre[1], ITA and others. (Worked at one of Hipmunk, Kayak, Expedia, etc)

[1] https://beta.developer.sabre.com/guides

I've been using Google flights and trips features for years and never had the Trips app. I am using it right now, for my current trip. The data propagates through assistant and maps and so on. I got an automatic notification about my flight delay and I can see my hotel reservation right on maps.

The Trips app may have been nice for having it all in one place, but it definitely wasn't a necessary part of the experience.

I like it as a user, but I really think it's Google applying a "data monopoly" to my life.

The fact I use Gmail allows them to make Google maps and Google assistant better products than say bing maps and Cortana, because bing maps and Cortana could never get access to those reservation emails which make the whole thing work.

Such monopolies should be illegal - everything should be sharable via an API. Sadly those seem to have gone out of fashion with things like Cambridge Analytica.

Could a Gmail add-on not do something similar? Of course you'd need to give it access to your emails. You could also use outlook, which I'm sure does similar things, maybe not as well though.

Gmail add-ons pretty much don't exist anymore. The Gmail API has been locked down to people able to pay for a ~$100k security audit. The Facebook API is rather crippled too. API's used to let you share all your data, and act on your behalf, but now typically they do Auth and access already-public data.

I'm happy it's locked down. I don't want crappy apps accessing my emails

That's pure BS. You can still access those e-mails through SMTP.

For example, if I extract OGuth2 app information from Thunderbird, then I could theoretically make another user authenticate against Thunderbird's app and then ex-filtrate all of their Gmail data.

Gmail API is blocked for purely political reasons. E.G. real-time delivery of e-mails which is not accessible through non-Gmail clients.

Unfortunately when you let people develop on your data, you get what happened with FB and Cambridge Analytica. You saw how FB got into trouble for literally no fault of theirs? The data was literally accessed using a legit API.

To be fair the biggest issue with CA was the "Friends of friends" data.

Well, Facebook did participate in Obama's campaign, so "no fault of theirs" is quite distant from reality.

Google is so incoherent all the time that at this point it's the norm. Most projects are meant to last a couple years at best and then get shunned even if they had millions of users.

People get promoted in Google for designing a new amazing service and having a bunch of people use it.

Nobody gets promoted for maintaining a service.

So old services die because nobody wants to look after them. That won't change till Google reworks its employee incentives.

I liked google trips and finance, light weight to the point. Not sure what happened to either of them, maybe just less discoverable these days.

Google Finance has turned into some sort of monstrosity all in the name of “engagement”.

Google trips shutdown on the 5th of August

Some of Google’s biggest ad customers are OTAs. That explains a lot about their moves (or failure to move) in the travel space.

This appears to be a time-limited promotion.

> When we predict the price won’t decrease for select itineraries booked between August 13 and September 2, we’ll guarantee the price won’t drop, and we’ll refund you the difference if it does.

When I read that I assumed that they want to observe the effect this guarantee has on pricing by changing people's booking behavior. Doing a time-limited study seems like a good way to do that.

I agree, but that seems like such a short window for an accurate assessment.

I bet its a "50% of flights" trial, so the data is more comparible.

If they have enough flight bookings per day, even a 1 day trial could be plenty to see how customers behave.

Do they say if this is US-only?

> This feature is available for select itineraries originating in the U.S. with domestic or international destinations.

My question is, with Google's pretty much non-existent customer service (unless you're on G-suite), how difficult is the process going to be to get to a human if you want to make a claim that they weren't the lowest price?

Super anecdotal obviously, but very very difficult. Bought some flights on Scandinavian Air through Google Flights that included multiple checked bags for my wife and I about a year ago. Upon arrival at the airport in Gothenburg, they were very insistent we hadn't paid for bags and had to pay the exorbitant fees for checking bags on the spot.

We essentially could not figure out how to contact anyone at Google Flights to clear up the situation or achieve any form of redress.

I don't think it's currently possible to book flights to Google Flights itself. Doesn't it always redirect you to another site to book? You would have to contact that site for help in this siutation.

I recall booking through google flights, as I understood they simply booked on my behalf through the carrier but I was entirely in Google eco-system.

You’re wrong, it’s possible. [0]

[0] https://support.google.com/travel/answer/7515668?hl=en

Google still isn't the seller of record, though.

> Note: All bookings are made with the relevant airline or online travel agency.

> Bought some flights on Scandinavian Air through Google Flights that included multiple checked bags for my wife and I about a year ago. Upon arrival at the airport in Gothenburg, they were very insistent we hadn't paid for bags and had to pay the exorbitant fees for checking bags on the spot.

Something like this had happened to me often enough that I no longer purchase anything through an intermediary when traveling. Flights, directly through the airline. Hotels, directly through the hotel. Theme park, directly through the park. Is it convenient to make reservations and/or pay in person on-site? On-site it is.

The occasional discounts just aren't worth the clusterfsck it becomes when there's any kind of misunderstanding or miscommunication.

The price between a intermediary and an airline can be 1300 USD vs. 800 USD.

That's also partly on the airline. I recently had a similar experience with a ticket booked through I think Expedia. Bags on the return flight were supposed to be included. When we checked in, the machine wanted to charge for bags. We showed the agent the booking email, she made a quick call, and waived the bag fee. It was odd to me from the start that bags were included only on the return flight, but I attributed it to international travel.

The issue isn't about who's fault it is. The issue is that you can call Expedia when things go wrong but there's nobody at Google you can call.

Especially when the existing sites that at least offer 800 numbers are already so bad at doing low price guarantees. Look at what hotels.com did when the price dropped by $1000: quibble about whether the rate was really the same because of whether breakfast was offered all week versus weekdays. It turned out to be their error anyway. https://www.elliott.org/the-troubleshooter/hotel-price-drops...

A while back I applied for a price protection partial refund when I bought a Nexus something or other and they dropped the price a week or two later.

It took less than 24 hours for the money to be back on my card - I don't think any humans were involved. Why would they be?

> I don't think any humans were involved. Why would they be?

The question is not "can I contact a human if it all goes well and everything works perfectly?"

The question is "can I contact a human if it doesn't?"

Unlike say getting locked out of your account, missing out on a discount is not catastrophic. If it happens at a low enough rate, just accept it and move on. If it happens at a high enough rate stop using the service.

Note that this is a temporary promotion:

> Price guarantee is available between August 13th and September 2nd, 2019. You'll see the price guarantee badge on select flights where travel is completed by November 24th, 2019.

Still sounds like a great deal, but this explains why it's not a huge liability.

It may be a test run. Flight pricing is complicated, Google may be reasonably worried about the unknown-unknowns.

Airlines can easily abuse this guarantee if they want to. The airline can calculate the loss Google would incur through any price change, and they don't necessarily incur the same losses. They can make price changes specifically to make sure Google flights doesn't make money.

This isn't the stock market - flights aren't transferable, since tickets are named.

If the airlines know that most of tickets for a flight have been sold via Google, then what's to stop the airlines from drastically dropping the price of the last ticket just to cost Google a ton of money? There's no way this could work if the airlines were in a legitimately adversarial relationship with Google.

Even better, have the airlines themselves buy up the tickets via Google. Then drop the price to nearly 0 on the last ticket. Then release the tickets for sale back to the public. Instead of just hurting Google, now, the airline has basically gotten to sell a whole plane's worth of tickets twice.

Then sell them back to google again, rinse and repeat until whatever regulatory body with a real hammer gets pissed off.

A) Why would they be in an adversarial relationship with Google? B) What benefit do they get from doing something like this?

The airlines are in a very adversarial relationship with Google. They're scared that google will take away their direct distribution channel by being better than they are.

So adversarial they spend tons of money on advertising and pay Google to use ITA's software to sell tickets to their own customers.

They dont have a choice about advertising. If they don’t advertise, users will see an ota or metasearch link and click on that instead. Then the airline pays a GDS commission and makes less money

If most tickets for that airline come from Google then that airline has little incentive to burn Google with its pricing practices.

They definitely have an incentive to take advantage of Google. If an airline regularly drops the price, and Google keeps refunding the price difference out of their own pockets, word will get out. People are going to preferentially book on that airline, knowing that the day before the flight they're going to get a big rebate.

That brand loyalty will remain even if Google kicks them off of their platform. Moreover, as more airlines get kicked off, Google is left with a smaller and smaller subset of airlines it is brokering tickets for.

But... why? Google is refunding passengers, not the airlines. The airline already sold an expensive ticket thanks to Google.

Why in the world would you attack a business partner that brings you customers in such a strange way?

Airlines run on razor thin margins now. If they believe that people in the future will know where they want to fly and will search for tickets wherever tickets are sold (see Southwest) and they can get a bunch of free advertising and sell some expensive tickets by burning Google, I think they'd at least consider doing it.

Combined profit margin for all US airlines was a touch above 6% in 2018. But that was still $11.8 billion in profit.


I have no idea what you're talking about. Why would the airline harm their own profit just to harm Google? There's no incentive to reduce how much they'll make. More so if they know that Google is guaranteeing the price, they can raise the price higher (or not lower it when they would, rather) to keep more of the profit for themselves.

The Google legal and business team must already have deals in place.

1,000,000 tickets

$100 loss per ticket

Total loss for Google: $100,000,000 Google's cash balance is $120,000,000,000 Google's operating income in 2018: $30,000,000,000

Co-ordination and system changes required to pull this trickery for airlines probably: $100,000,000 (and not even sure if it's legal)

Can't believe how naive hacker news is when it comes to business and change-management and legal and pretty much everything else

This is awesome, I hope Google doesn't kill it!

Farecast did this and was bought out by Bing to become Bing travel, who then stopped the price guarantees.

I use hopper [0] for something similar. But considering google's scale and resources, google might give me more accurate predictions.

[0]: https://www.hopper.com/

I'd be hesitant on that one, or any prediction software, without the backing of the price guarantee like Google has. Otherwise you're really just gambling.

I used to use whatever flight prediction software Bing bought out when I traveled for work. It was pretty accurate most of the time, and I got used to trusting it, but I definitely got burned really badly a few times by continuing to wait as the price sky rocketed under the algorithms assurance that it would drop again before I needed to pull the trigger.

Pretty sure it was called farecast.com

Some airlines such as Alaska and Southwest already offer this but the pain is monitoring the drops for your fare class etc. If Google is automating that, then more power to them!

Google Flights doesn't get pricing for Southwest: https://www.google.com/flights?hl=en#flt=/m/01cx_.CMH.2019-0...

Southwest don't distribute indirectly to leisure travellers, so you won't find them in any booking tool (except corporate travel mgmt solutions)

Alaska no longer offers the policy I believe you are referring to, effective September 1, 2018 [1]. Their new policy, despite being advertised under the same name, only covers price drops within 24 hours of purchase, during which time you'd be able to cancel and rebook anyway. [2]

This is the kind of change that is not fun to learn the hard way.

[1] https://onemileatatime.com/alaska-airlines-price-guarantee-e... [2] https://www.alaskaair.com/content/deals/special-offers/price...

Why would they monitor it for you? They would need to pay you the difference.

Good will and branding. I tend to trust companies who do that for me because it at least gives the impression that they are kind of trustworthy. I now book a lot of my travel (hotels especially) via Priceline because they took care of me when Marriott overbooked and wouldn't honor my reservation I made via Priceline. Priceline put us up at a 5 star hotel that costs $800 a night while Marriott's suggestion was to send us (and other guests like us) to a Motel 8 instead without refunding us at all.

So never again Marriott and I'm booking my travels via Priceline.

Sounds like Google is trying to dominate one more market. I'm sure they

1) wouldn't mind being the middle man of one more thing 2) continue to transmit travel plans and would be plans to whoever wants to pay.

Google is an advertising and information company.

Why am I getting a feeling that they will shut it down in 6 months.

I hope it's not a plain fraud. For a part of my work in OEM industry, I do duties of a professional purchaser, so I know how to get deals.

I had many times such refund and guarantee promises thrown out of the window with explanation "so use us if you want." All kinds of booking agencies being the worst offenders.

One time when I still lived in Canada, I went to a small claims court, and and civil tribunal with "ahem..., commercial contracts are not our jurisdiction"

Google is not some small company to commit fraud for a few pennies

I recently searched for flights via Google Flights (for Frontier). The price shown for the exact same itinerary was ~$50 more on Google Flights than when I used my smartphone on a different network (disabled WiFi), going directly on Frontier's website. This could be because Google counted for things like, for example, 1 checked bag when comparing all flights.

I don't have enough knowledge on the matter, but I will absolutely use a different device and book directly on the airline's site to ensure I get the best price with no middleman fees.

Google flights charges no middleman fee. It definitely would have added a carry on. you can easily remove it

I just checked and, by default, Google doesn't add a carry-on or checked bag. It could be taxes and fees.

I don't know why they wouldn't start charging a middleman fee someday. What other value would they get from building Google Flights?

If you get access to someone's travel history, future travel plans, and their purchase habits (luggage weight, how many people you travel with, etc), this information is worth a lot more to an advertisement company than a mere middleman fee.

I've never been given the option to book directly through Google flights - I don't think they offer that option, so I'm not sure how they would charge a middleman fee.

counter to that, I was looking at flights yesterday and Google Flights and compared it directly to the airlines prices on their site. I saved nearly a grand.

How could that be? I'd imagine Google Flights isn't giving you a discount to use them.

The airline knows that you are coming from google flights. They know that you know the prices of the competitors...

I would never book flight or hotel through 3rd party portal unless there's a substantial discount. Booking direct work better 90% of the time.

google for flights sends me to the direct airline 99% of the time (and they give you a choice to use a portal). It's less of a portal, and more of an aggregator that funnels you... like a search engine.

Depends. What about if your flight is a day late and the hotel don't want to reimburse the missed night? If you'd booked through an agency, you could have both on the same reservation and be covered for that type of stuff

My credit cards have trip delay insurance to handle this kind of situation.

I feel like that is a recipe for getting price gouged. Or do you search for trips with 3rd party tools and then book it directly?

Most airlines show the same price on their site that I find on the aggregators. The exception is multi-itinerary tickets that can save money, but are risky since you are booking separate, multiple tickets.

Look around more.

Many aggregators offer big discounts for minor things like logging in or signing up for a newsletter.

$400 off for logging in - sure!

I think they have contracts in place about pricing for non-logged in users (ie. Neither of us will undercut the other). But when you're a customer, they suddenly offer much better deals. Yes I will take the 'loyalty bonus' of free extra 5 days stay for booking a weekend - thanks!

Some of the aggregators are so desperate to get customers that they will give you something for $0. I rented a car for a week for $0 through easyrentcars because I signed up through a refer link for example.

Search on 3rd party as part of the research. The thing is if there's anything comes up during the flight or stay, it's way easier to deal with the hotels or airlines on direct orders.

Google owns ITA software which many airlines themselves for ticketing, as such they know more than the airline itself does about what's a good deal.

How often do prices actually drop? I fly pretty often and I can't remember the last time I encountered a price drop on a flight over time.

The flight I want has been fluctuating between $400 and $700 every couple of days for the last two weeks. It's $729 now and I need to gamble on whether it will go back down and I should wait, or whether it's about to go up even higher.

I _hate_ flying solely because of the gambling mechanic built-in to the purchase.

It is an international flight that's 6+ months away? And the exact same flights (not just same days etc) Because that's the only time I can remember seeing something like that.

It's USA to Canada in less than 2 months.

I was thinking it might be a domestic Canadian flight. The high average price and high variability fit the standard pattern for our domestic flights as well.

Absolutely! I remember a particular budget-ish airline in Asia dropping their prices more than 50%. I already had a ticket by the time, and I saved money by booking this low fare and canceling the old one. It was worth even after then cancellation fee.

That's ridiculous, if they had an AI that could accurately predict prices, they would quickly become one of the largest, most powerful corporations in the world.

Uh, wait ...

The profit from accurately predicting future prices would dwarf advertising / computing revenue. The problem with any prediction is as soon as it's acted on or made public it starts to affect the system requiring an updated prediction. If enough people buy into the prediction it's a self fulfilling prophecy. So much of pricing is influenced by human nature though. Good luck predicting that consistently over time.

Also, the airlines could change their algorithm - randomly. If for no other reason than to muck with Google.

From their detail page:

> How much money can I get back? Price guarantee pays you the difference between the flight price when you book and the lowest ticket price. To get money back, the price difference must be greater than $5. You can receive up to $500 back total for all of the flights you book with Google price guarantee.

That’d be pretty hilarious for an airline to explicitly dick them over for $500 a pop.

Somehow I think Google would manage to outsmart them at their own game.

Only problem is that it would also mean $500 less revenue for the airline.

IE: your model gains so much impact that it starts to impact the model itself.

What if airlines suddenly sold tickets for a fixed price like every other ticket on earth?

"and notify you when we predict the price may go up soon or won’t get any lower"

This feels like a different version of only 3 seats left or only 2 rooms available at this price. Why not notify me when the price goes down or is likely to go down?

Flight prices shown in India by Google are always been higher than other booking sites. Never heard of anyone around booking flights through Google here.

I mostly blame the lack of Integration with reservation systems in certain carriers like Indigo, Nepali Airlines, Air Asia, etc. Then there is a whole range of smaller carriers (including Nepal's numerous airlines). Some airlines are downright now searchable through any means other than the airlines own web site.

Does that mean that they'll offer a full refund if your travel plans change, since tickets get more expensive closer to the day of the flight anyway?

I very much doubt it. Those would be new tickets, not a changed price on existing ones.

I believe there was a startup that offered this as a paid service, using some sort of price prediction algorithm

TANSTAAFL. What is the catch of using Google Flights? What would Google do with this data?

Hmm. Interesting move with all the antitrust sentiment floating around. Google has certainly focused their "everything above the fold is us" approach heavily on travel. Don't believe me? Do a few travel related queries and see how much above the fold IS NOT google. They have been VERY aggressive in this area.

Is this the next industry taking a hit from an asset-light strategy?

Seems like it will apply to such a small subset of flights (that are already probably higher than you'd want because they're soon).

There is no way Google is going to guarantee if there is a potential sale window from the airline.

US-only, of course.

And please don't show 737s.

Well, this is boring. I would prefer an insurance that locks in the price for some time. dohop.com was offering this for some time.

Forecast was doing that, quite successfully (115 m$ exit).

Do more business with Google? Hard pass.

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