February 26, 2024

Gadgetwise Blog: Google Flight Search vs. Kayak

On Tuesday, Google unveiled Google Flight Search—a competitor to Kayak, Travelocity, Expedia and other airfare-shopping sites.

This is the first real fruit borne from Google’s purchase of ITA Software, a flight and airfare-information company that Google bought in July of 2010. Since ITA sells flight information to a number of travel sites (like Kayak, Orbitz and Hotwire), after scrutiny of the deal by the Justice Department, Google had to make assurances that it wouldn’t keep ITA’s best parts for its own uses.

For a quick comparison, I ran a few searches on Google Flight Search and Kayak. Here’s what I found:

Google is faster. Pages loaded about eight seconds faster on Google than they did on Kayak. This may not seem like a lot, but when you’re doing repeated searches and adjustments and reloads, it’s noticeable.

Google is simpler. The default view you get when you search for a flight on Google are all the outbound flights. When you select one, you then see the return flights that are available with that outbound ticket. This is better than Kayak’s presentation, because Kayak shows pairs of flights for the destination and date you’ve selected. With that view, you get all the 9:30 a.m. flights listed with all their matching return flights. There’s a lot of redundancy. Google’s simplified view is better.

One quibble with Google’s layout: The results of the return flights are in a lightly delineated box that appears amidst the departing fares. Unfortunately, the box is not marked as clearly as it could be (you can kind of see this in the example, at right) and may cause some confusion when you are staring at columns of letters and numbers.

Kayak’s results are more comprehensive. Searching for a flight from Miami to Dallas in late October, Kayak showed a US Airways flight departing at 6:15 a.m. On Google Flight Search, the earliest flight was at 6:50 a.m. That earlier flight cost twice as much as the later one, but for some people, schedule may be more important than cost. Google has said that it is aware that Flight Search is limited right now (it has no international flights, for example), and that it will be adding more flights in the future.

Kayak’s fare map is better. Both services offer vacationers a useful tool — a map showing how much a ticket to various destinations costs from a selected departure city. If you live in New York, for example, you can see that the lowest fare to Charleston, S.C., costs $160, while a flight to Funafuti Atol in Tuvalu will set you back no less than $2,690. But just as Google’s results are limited, so is its map at this point; Kayak’s map is densely packed with cities and other destinations, where Google’s is sparsely populated with places to go.

Google’s filters and viewing tools are cooler. Kayak has the usual fare matrix, which shows number of stops on one axis and airlines on another, but Google slices up the data in two interesting and useful ways. The first is a matrix that has price on one axis and overall flight time on another, shown below. Sliding up, down and around the axes filters flights by cost and duration.

The other view is a bar graph that accompanies a calendar, shown below. The graph shows prices for round-trip fares on different days. It’s an easy way to discover that, for example, if you leave one day earlier, your fare will be $100 cheaper, or if you fly out the next week it will drop $200. Google’s approach is more revealing than the ±3 day option most sites have, and while Kayak does have a fare chart showing highs and lows over an extended period of time, Google’s is interactive, making it more useful.

Final verdict: Kayak (for now). Google’s brought some good thinking to sorting through airfare information, but it does have an Achilles’ heel; right now, it doesn’t have as many flights as the competition. In the end, you can dress up the data all you want (and they are very nice dresses, I must say), but if you’re looking for flights, you’re a little like Gary Oldman in The Professional: You want every one. Playing around with graphs and sliders is cool and all, but it doesn’t help you much if there’s an earlier flight you want and you’re not seeing it.

But Google’s a pretty big company. They seem to have some smart people there. In all likelihood, they’ll adapt. And so will Kayak. Hopefully, the biggest winners here are travelers.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=03543a503dd7f5bc3d1c92fe04787a4f

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