Google Flights: customisable airfare search, but not perfect yet

By John Walton, September 14 2011
Google Flights: customisable airfare search, but not perfect yet

Google Flights now lets you compare and book airfares between US cities, although there's no news about when the search engine giant plans to roll the system out to the Australian or other international flights.

It looks like Google's acquisition of flight information company ITA last year has borne fruit.

The Flights system is more detailed and customisable than the quick Google Flight Search, where you type in, say, "Flights SYD-MEL" to see schedules and airlines between those two airports.

Google has a chirpy YouTube video to explain everything, but we tested it out to see how it works.

Head to and type in your origin city. Sydney won't work yet, but Los Angeles will. Google instantly shows you the cheapest prices to get to any city, using blue dots.

(This would work well for a quick weekend away while on a business trip, where you just want to get out of the city and don't really care where you go.)

You can also check nearby airports, which is pretty helpful for cities like San Francisco, where San Francisco (SFO), San Jose (SJC) or Oakland (OAK) may be equally convenient.

Here, we searched for flights from Los Angeles (LAX) to Washington DC.

Results are initially displayed by outbound flight departure time, but you can alter that by clicking on any of the blue coloured headings -- flight duration, arrival time, airline, route or round trip (which means pricing).

You can also select by airline alliance. That's great for Star Alliance passengers, who have three airlines to choose from: United, Continental and US Airways. It's useful to be able to compare the three, with their multiple hubs across the USA.

But the alliance selection is less useful for Qantas frequent flyers looking to bump up their points balance, since the only oneworld US airline is American Airlines, or SkyTeam fans who only have Delta as an option.

Here, we narrowed it down to just Star Alliance airlines:

You can also change the number of stops and adjust the sliders on the left to avoid connections, early morning or late night flights.

Once you've selected the flight you want, Google Flights takes you directly to the airline's website for booking -- and, unlike some search engines, it actually carries through the details of the flights you selected rather than making you enter them again.

At the end of the day, Google Flights isn't markedly better than its major competitors in the search arena, Kayak or Skyscanner, although it does return results faster. And business or first class fares aren't yet part of the search engine.

But that comes with an inevitable "yet". Google's philosophy is one of incremental improvements, so we'll certainly keep an eye on developments.

What do you think -- will it be useful for your business travel? Share your thoughts with other Australian Business Traveller readers in a comment below or join the conversation on Twitter: we're @AusBT.

John Walton

Aviation journalist and travel columnist John took his first long-haul flight when he was eight weeks old and hasn't looked back since. Well, except when facing rearwards in business class.

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