The Malaysian Reserve

This new Google tool tells you when to buy holiday season flights

The new version of ‘Explore Destinations’ will tell where you should go if you’re in search of a good flight deal (Source: Google)

Plus, new features to help you save on every trip thereafter. The new version of ‘Explore Destinations’ will tell where you should go if you’re in search of a good flight deal

By NIKKI EKSTEIN

It’s the most wonderful time of the year — and by that, I mean the lazy, late days of summer. New insights from Google also reveal that right now — late August — might also be the best time to start thinking about your holiday travels if you want to get the best flight or hotel deal.

In fact, flight searches for Thanksgiving will spike by 76% in September. By October, they’ll increase by a further 95%. Book now, and you can pay half as much as one of those procrastinators.

“Research suggests that consumers are more stressed about what they’re paying for flights and hotels than just about any other consumer purchase that they make,” Richard Holden, VP of Google Travel, told Bloomberg. Buyer’s remorse, he says, is far more common when you’re shopping for an airfare than, say, a flatscreen TV. “People worry that they’ll miss out on a future price drop, so we’ve decided to make our price insights richer — telling consumers whether what they’re paying is a low price, a high one, or a fair one.”

The result isn’t just this handy tool, which uses last year’s prices to predict the rise and fall of airfares across the 25 most popular US routes for Thanksgiving, the winter holidays and New Year’s. It’s a deluge of new features that will inspire confidence in your future travel purchases, no matter where or when you’re going.

Hotel Price Insights

Hotel price insights for the holidays combine several of Google travel’s new features

Power users of Google Flights will know that price insights already existed when you looked up tickets. Flights from New York to Paris, for instance, show red and green numbers under each day of the month to contextualise average prices based on the calendar — explaining whether they were above or below the mean. Now, for the first time, there’s a comparable tool for hotel prices.

Type “New York City hotels” into your Google app, and you’ll trigger the engine. (It works for any city in the world, big or small — from Tokyo to Kanazawa.) Then select your dates and your favourite property, and a new feature will pop up. Look for the “compare market prices” button and you’ll be able to see whether current prices are fluctuating and whether they’re low, typical, or high — all based on prices for similarly rated hotels in the same vicinity.

“It’s hard to know whether US$300 (RM1,230) is a good price for a hotel on a particular night — this gives you a sense based on star ratings, and later we’ll take even more data into account. It’s all about comprehensiveness and transparency,” said Holden.

Picking a Destination That’s on Sale

A screenshot of hotel price insights on Google’s mobile interface

Ever decided that you want to go to London only to find that, because of a big convention, every hotel is booked and flight prices have skyrocketed? An upgrade to Google’s Explore feature will help prevent that. To find it, pull up Google flights on web or mobile, then click “Explore Destinations”.

It lets you input basic parameters for your next vacation — your home city, how long you want to be away, and what time of year you’d like to travel — before populating a world map with estimated flight prices. Want to head somewhere for Christmas, for instance? Leaving from New York, you’ll find great deals in cities from Barcelona to Amsterdam to Zurich — where today it showed that flights are roughly US$175 cheaper than normal.

Green numbers mean you’re getting a relative bargain: 30% below the average price or more. Plus, a list of destinations on the left-hand side contextualises how much you’re saving in each place.

“Three out of five users tell us they’re willing to shift their dates or destinations, so this will help them figure out where to get great value when they’re feeling flexible,” said Holden.

Thinking Beyond the Holidays

A price graph for thanksgiving flights from Chicago to San Francisco

Google’s holiday flight tool represents a gradual expansion toward more personalised, more transparent travel bookings. “This isn’t a brand- new path for us, we’re just making a greater investment in it now — we’ve been seeing yields from consumers who say they find this useful.”

As such, it’s still a work in progress. Holiday flight predictions are currently based only on 2017 numbers, but looking at the last five years, for example, would be more statistically significant. Holden says the company will add more data to the flight and hotel tools to make the “great value” predictions better over time. And as consumer behaviour provides a clearer picture of how the tool is being used, more destinations will be added.

“Over time, we also want to provide more holistic planning support for the consumer,” said Holden, hinting toward improved destination insights that consider your existing flight and hotel purchases to serve up recommendations for what to do on the ground.

If only he could do the same for your holiday gift list. — Bloomberg