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While much attention has been focused on Google's possible entry into the online fare search marketplace, it's easy to forget that another major search engine—Bing—has access to proprietary fare search technology as well. Bing's creator, Microsoft, purchased fare-predicting site Farecast back in 2008, then rebranded it under the Bing name as Bing Travel.
Now, Bing has begun incorporating fare predictions into its general search results. Users go to Bing.com, type in a city and the word "flights" (or some other iteration, such as "fly to Miami"), and the search engine automatically loads the cheapest fare available to that destination within the next 90 days. The results come with Bing Travel's trademark Price Predictor, an indicator that predicts whether the price is expected to drop, increase, or hold steady. If interested, users click on the fare, then do a traditional search using the suggested dates. These dates are based purely on price, of course, so you may end up with a different itinerary and fare than the one recommended.
In a blog post at Bing.com, Bing Travel's David Lindheimer writes that the new product, called "Autosuggest Flight Prices," even recognizes city nicknames: "Don’t worry about entering the formal city name or airport name. Bing Travel recognizes colloquial names like Chi Town." However, users might be better off going straight for the city's actual name: I tried "Big Apple flights," "Beantown flights," and even "Chi town flights," and got the search engine equivalent of a blank stare.
Aside from that, Autosuggest Flight Prices seemed to work pretty well. Others have written that the Autosuggest Flight Prices fare didn't always match the actual search fare, but I did not have that problem. The fares were always the same or within $1.
The one major flaw? Bing did not autofill my travel dates, meaning every time I clicked on a fare from the search results, I had to re-enter the dates on Bing Travel. This seems like a major oversight, and hopefully is just one of those hiccups that occur when new products roll out.
Autosuggest Flight Prices is directed at people using Bing to search, but who have no particular affection or loyalty for Bing Travel. Bing hopes they'll they go to Bing.com, type in "Seattle flights," and click on the fare that conveniently pops up, instead of going to a more customary search results page chock full of links to competing fare search sites.
Readers, if you decide to test drive Bing's new tool, tell us what you think in the comments section below.
**Update** Bing seems to have pulled back on the colloquial language recognition aspect. References to the function have been removed from the company's blog post, and a spokesperson wrote me to say Bing is testing the feature and that "natural language recognition will continue to improve as more people begin using Travel Autosuggest."