Google loves to organize information. It’s the company’s mission statement, after all, and there’s no common life task that generates more details than planning a trip.
Flight itineraries, hotel reservations, car rentals, tour bookings, you name it. There’s a reason that sometimes you need a vacation from your vacation.
Organizing all of this madness is pretty well done by apps like Tripit, and in some respect, by Google Now. But Google has shown it wants to move beyond just saving your bookings into a neat package, as helpful as that is. With new tools like a dedicated travel app, enhancements to Inbox, and more services for flights and hotels, you can now create your entire itinerary and get some suggestions about what to do when you get there all through Google's servers.
I looked more deeply at the options available while planning some upcoming trips for both business and pleasure. In essence, you can go Google for most of what you want to do, though the experience isn’t quite yet thorough enough to completely ignore the other good travel services out there.
What’s your destination?
Google has a very underrated service for searching flights. Google Flight Search is similar to other aggregators like Expedia or Travelocity, with the secret sauce being that it will mix and match different airline routes and travel sites to try and find you the best deal. But you can also save flights to your Google account and then check back on them later to see if the price has dropped or risen.
Google Now will ping you from time to time about this, particularly if there’s a big drop. I used this when booking a flight to Europe this summer, although unfortunately I kept watching the fares rise instead of fall. You also can return to the flight search at anytime and see your saved itineraries and find out how they’ve fared.
While there’s no dedicated mobile app, the tools work well in Chrome on Android if you head to flights.google.com. The web app is being tweaked all the time, with Google dropping in more suggestions for trips and what to do when you get there. The company has built up a tremendous amount of data with Maps and other services, so there’s even more potential here to make this a top-rate service if Google were to account for what you like to do by allowing you to create a profile of your preferred activities.
Currently there are suggestions for specific destinations, both near to your home and far away. I’m not sure I’d necessarily use this as the sole determiner of where to take a trip, but it’s not a bad place to get some ideas.
Grab a place to stay
Lodging is the next travel service that Google is beginning to tackle, but searching for a hotel with Google right now is a little weird. Instead of a dedicated “Google Hotels” site or app, you perform a search right in Chrome or the Google app, type the parameters, and then you’re off to find a place to rest your weary head.
Then there are a lot of different options for specifying what type of lodging you’re looking for, along with the ability to put a star next to a particular hotel in case you want to check back on it later. This is an area where Google's context-sensitive ads can actually be a benfit; you can sometimes find a good deal on the right hotel from one of them. Depending upon the search, the first result may be a sponsored suggestion with a killer deal.
You have to get specific, however. If you just type “hotel San Francisco” you’ll get a bunch of ads to fill the page for travel apps or websites. It’s best to type in a date so you can see the actual booking tools.
For the time being Google is the middleman with its hotel service as well, with companies that actually handle the booking able to bump themselves up the search rankings through advertising. I’ve found a lot of good deals this way, and it’s a strong motivator to start your hotel search with Google and then book from best offer.
But the hotel search should adopt some of the design and functionality of the Flights service. You ought to see your previous searches and get more suggestions up front the way you can when looking for where to jet off to.
Keep your itinerary in one place
We’ve looked before at the benefits of using Google Now to keep all your travel in one place. The service keeps getting better, with dedicated cards for your reservation with flights, hotels, and other details all wrapped together. As you get closer to your travel date, a dedicated card will appear in your Now stream. If you want to see it anytime, you can do so through a voice command: “Ok Google, show me my trips.”
You can also type “my reservations” or “my flights” in order to get these details. You’ll also see concert tickets or other bookings, depending upon if the developers for the booking site have encoded the right details into their email.
One area where this hasn’t really kicked in is cruises. A cruise I took last summer, and another planned for this summer, are nowhere to be found in my Google stream. Whether it’s on Google’s end or the cruise providers', this could use some attention.
More is on the way
As referenced earlier, Google has a new beta travel app rolling out to those who have achieved Level 2 or above in the Local Guides ladder.
Despite my Level 3 achievement, I haven’t been able to score access to the beta (tick tock, Google). However, the takeaway is that Google wants to do a lot more when it comes to planning out future travel, using its knowledge in maps and data collected from other services to tie everything together offers a lot of potential.
This app could tie together everything into one cohesive package. Flights, hotels, and saved trips work well within their individual services, but everything feels rather siloed. If any company can pull your data together and make it all make sense, it’s Google.
Imagine a travel service that also offers flights and hotels based on your preferences - Google could learn that you like to stay at four-star hotels, avoid red-eye flights, and prefer to stay at least two nights somewhere. Think of a personalized guidebook that finds what you like to do, but may also nudge you towards branching out of your comfort zone a little.
The level of personalization that Google gives to other products would be welcome for travel planning, where there are usually too many choices to sort through. It’s a great package right now, but the quest to build a personal Google would definitely be welcome here.