Google (News - Alert) announced on Monday the release of FlightSearch, an online app that allows users to search for flights to a given destination. FlightSearch is designed to make trip planning much easier by eliminating a lot of trial-and-error searching.
One of the nicest features of FlightSearch is its flexibility, which is especially helpful in metropolitan areas served by multiple airports. On a flight from New York City to Chicago, it's possible to choose specific IATA codes like LGA for LaGuardia and ORD for O'Hare, or simply choose the 'all airports' option available in major cities. This time-saving feature lets travelers know, for example, if it's cheaper to fly to Chicago from LaGuardia or Newark airport.
The Lowest Fares option displays a bar graph showing the lowest fares for the time period you specified plus a few days before and after. You can quickly see if tweaking your schedule can help you save significantly on airfare or not.
Not all airlines are connected to FlightSearch at the moment, a fact that the service openly admits. A search of some U.S.-based flights includes flights by discount carrier Southwest Airlines in the results, but without pricing information.
The tool also supports eight different languages and displays prices in local currency. It is accessible as a subdirectory named ‘flights’ from the Google website. In the U.S. you would access it from http://www.google.com/flights. The URL is slightly different in other countries, but all that a user has to do is add ‘/flights’ to the URL for the Google home site in their country. So far, the service is available in the U.K., France, Spain, Italy and the Netherlands.
What's not clear from this service is whether or not it is meant to be a competitor of well-known online travel sites like Orbitz, Priceline or Expedia (News - Alert) or simply a conduit leading to them. Although FlightSearch searches only for flights and does not by itself provide hotel or car rental information like the other services do, links to hotels appear on the right side of the screen as paid ads. Another paid ad at the bottom center of the screen has links to the major online travel sites.
The scenario that seems to make the most sense is that Google does not want to get into the travel business and is simply taking another search activity and providing a combination of organic and paid links in the results, making money off the latter. If that's true, then Priceline and Expedia have little to worry about.
Edited by Brooke Neuman