If you want to find the best price for a flight from Los Angeles to Boston on December 3, there is no shortage of apps and websites that will perform an Internet-wide search and display the results ranked in the order you specify.
Of course, the airfares displayed are those in effect at that moment. By the time you book your flight, prices may rise. Or they might fall. And it matters: No one wants to overpay by booking prematurely, or by waiting too long to lock in a fare that later increases.
In keeping with its stated mission, “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful,” Google this week added an enhanced airfare-prediction function to Google Trips. “Google Flights can now help you be more confident that you’re booking your flight at the right time to get the best price. We now show you when prices are expected to increase for some specific flights and routes you’re interested in.”
When searching for specific flights, Google Flights users will be notified if there’s likely to be a price increase or decrease, how much the price will differ, and when the change is expected to take effect. That last piece, the timing of the price change, is crucial to making bookings to optimize savings.
The predictions are based on “historic prices for that route,” and presumably other information available to Google in its vast storehouse of data. That means that the tips come with a degree of uncertainty; Google won’t always get it right. But the predictions are likely to be right much of the time, and the algorithm will undoubtedly become more accurate over time.
The new feature gives Google Flights a significant competitive advantage over competing apps such as Kayak, Hopper, and Hitlist. And, more significantly, it shows just how serious Google is about becoming a major player in travel.
The update will be rolled out over the next few weeks.
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After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.