April 6 2014

Using Technology to Make Travel Easier – a Look at Google Flight Search

Urban Dictionary defines a Technosaur as a person with “…absolutely no ability to operate any electronic device that was made after 1985…This person may be your mom, grandpa, professor, 50+ co-worker, etc…Often, the vary [sic] devices that dumbfound them have been specifically made so that a small child can easily operate them, yet the Technosaur is unable.”

As a business person, I haven’t spent much time working with young people. But I enjoy teaching, so last year I took advantage of an opportunity to teach at a nearby university. Although not my first time teaching, it was my first time teaching students still in their teens.

They were amused and confused to find I wasn’t the technophobe they apparently envisioned. I honestly think they expected a Technosaur barely able to operate a cell phone, but to their credit they were pretty good at not saying so to my face.

To be clear, I’m not technically inclined in the least. But while I may not understand the underlying science, I have no problem taking advantage of technology as a consumer. In this day and age, with so many demands on our time and resources, shunning technology makes life harder than need be. I’ve talked about travel apps like Google Translate, Lyft, and Uber – all of which make my traveling life easier.

Another tool I like is Google Flight Search. Although introduced a while ago, refinements over time have made it increasingly useful to me.

It works much like other search tools when you need to find and compare flights – you input your origin, destination, and travel dates, and it returns flight options and prices. Searching for a roundtrip from New York to Paris in mid-June, here’s a snippet of what I got:

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Helpful, but really no more so than many other search tools out there.

Where I find unique value is in the tool’s filtering options. Let’s say I don’t specifically need to go to Paris. I just happen to have that week free and would like to see where the good fares from New York are. I leave the destination field blank and it returns a map showing fares to places around the country. I can quickly scan the map to see what various destinations will cost:

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Zooming out to destinations around the world, I spot a sub-$700 fare to Lima (Machu Picchu, anyone?).

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To drill down further, I click on Lima and then on the bar graph icon (right below the second date box). It shows me a two-month calendar of fares, highlighting a $595 fare on June 3:

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Note the blue bar graph below the calendar – a visual representation of the fluctuation in prices over several months. (Click on any bar to be shown flights for that exact date.) Finally, note the arrows on the bottom left where you can quickly change the duration of your trip. Sometimes shortening or extending your trip by just a day yields a better fare.

There are also options to filter by airline alliance, number of stops, and connecting airports, among other things.

I find the option to filter by price and duration particularly useful. Let’s say I have a free weekend and want to go somewhere close and cheap but I don’t know what that would be. I can simply fill in my origin city and travel dates, leave the destination field blank, filter by flight duration (let’s say under 4 hours) and cost (let’s say under $350)…and quickly see what my options are.

Enjoy!

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