The new search, powered by the data and algorithms it got when it bought ITA Software for $700 million in April, can be found directly at Google.com/flights, or in its usual results when a user types in a query such as “flights from lax to atl.”
Google’s purchase of ITA Software was contested by many vertical travel search companies on the grounds of anti-competitiveness, but the feds ultimately approved the purchase in April, with a few conditions on Google’s licensing of the data to third parties. Microsoft’s Bing launched with its own travel search as a way to differentiate itself from Google, using predictive technology to counsel searchers on whether a fare price was likely to go up or down.
Trying out Google’s take on flight search, one can see why traditional flight search engines feared the deal. Google has clearly integrated ITA’s smart algorithms that make sense of ever-changing airline inventory with its massive search infrastructure.
The site’s defining feature? Speed. Results from flight searches show up almost instantly—which comes as something of a miracle, given how accustomed we’ve all become to ten second-waits to find a cheap fare to Boise, Idaho.
The search has the usual bells and whistles to refine searches and a nifty map.
Currently, booking a flight requires you to click over to an airline’s site, which isn’t always seamless since you may have to repick the exact flight when you hit the airline’s page. The flight search also gives you the option to limit a search to only one airline, but in the case of choosing Virgin America, Google seemed to have no data.
Despite those limitations, one can only assume that there have been better days inside companies such as Expedia, Orbitz, Kayak, and Hipmunk.