Google has just introduced a price guarantee for airline tickets. If you buy a flight they say is at the right price, and the fare drops later, they’ll give you the difference. This should bring more attention to the generally-excellent Google Flights.
- A badge will appear next to guaranteed itineraries
- Google will track the price and if it falls they’ll pay out the difference (as long as it’s at least $5)
- The feature is capped at $500 and refunds on no more than 3 itineraries per year per Google user
- They won’t guarantee pricing on any itineraries more than 60 days out
You need to be signed into your Google account, pay in US dollars, and use a U.S. billing address and U.S. phone number when you make your booking. And you have to be signed up up with Google pay for a reimbursement, but you can do that later (when you become reimbursement-eligible).
Not all airlines are going to be eligible for this either, “you are most likely to see the guarantee offered on Alaska, Spirit, and Hawaiian Airlines flights,” according to Google.
Bear in mind this isn’t just about selling you travel.
- They are a data company
- They want your travel searches
- Then they can cross sell you via ads
Google tested this briefly in 2019 and it’s taken them nearly four years to bring it back. In the meantime you can even get a price guarantee from Capital One’s Hopper-powered site. And the idea itself harkens back at least to Yapta.com over 15 years ago.
Price guarantee is only one piece of the puzzle, more broadly we’re too limited in terms of searching on price (and the Department of Transportation has proposed making the price the primary way consumers inform their decisions in perpetuity). We need better online travel sites. Google does a good job searching schedule and fares, and has some rich data to show once you’ve searched that way, but it hasn’t done enough to go beyond that and really displace the large online travel agency websites.
In my own experience, and from emails I get from readers, my sense is the Expedias and Booking.coms of the world:
- provide poor customer service, often long hold times for agents without the capability to help with much of anything that goes wrong with a booking.
- don’t do a very good job of helping customers identify the best trip for their needs. There’s very little guidance on the best connection, what flight experience is going to match a customer’s preferences, or what hotel they’ll enjoy.
So customers are either left to their own devices to pick whatever is out there (so pretty much zero value add) or worse options – especially for hotels – that are presented based on which hotels will pay a premium for consumer eyeballs rather than what hotel will best meet a customer’s needs or what will give them the best price.
Online travel agency websites complain that Google is delivering travel results directly to customers instead of sending people to their websites where they can collect a toll (commission) on the transaction. And they want the government to step in and force Google to deliver customers to them.
I say that online travel agency websites should be better, should add value to customers, so that customers will want and prefer the service that they’re providing. We need Expedia companies, and Priceline companies, to respond to competition and improve — not to run to the government to shut Google down from offering better services to consumers.
(HT: Paul H)