Wednesday 22 January 2020

How Google Travel's new features can make you a smarter planner

Google has taken another step forward with its travel tools. Here's how to get the best out of them.

Travelling with Google Maps. Stock Photo: Getty
Travelling with Google Maps. Stock Photo: Getty

Natalie B. Compton

The people who brought you the world's biggest search engine are also working to make your travel planning more efficient.

Last week, Google rolled out new features for Google Travel that can help you find the best timing for your trips, determine where you should stay and figure out how much it's really going to cost.

The features are some of many tweaks Google has been making to its travel services for years. In 2011, Google purchased travel-industry software and launched Google Flights. It created the app Google Trips in 2016, but closed the service in August of 2019, opting instead to merge travel services with its other products (like Google Maps) under the Google Travel umbrella.

The new tweaks are even better for avid Google users who already rely on Gmail or Google Maps, because the advice that the site provides improves as the system learns about your search history and preferences.

Google Travel now shows users information about upcoming trips (with a focus on things to do when you get there), potential trips (based on flight searches you've been searching), popular destinations in general and your past trips.

"I'd be hard-pressed to point to any aspect of Google [Travel] that I wish they did better," says Scott Keyes, founder of Scott's Cheap Flights, who has been using Google's travel services since launching his company in 2015. "Google continues to be the gold standard in any arena that they enter in - flights, hotels, travel included."

These are the additions, and how they can help you get organised.

Plan the best trip time

You know you want to go to Rome, but you're not sure when to go to Rome.

Google Travel now has a feature for people with flexible dates that want to time their trip just right. The site now features tabs like "When to visit" and "What you'll pay" to consult. Fill in your desired travel dates and see the weather forecast, what crowds will be like and how prices vary. The site also shows whether prices for your trip seem high or typical.

Once you've figured out where you want to go and when, you'll need to book a flight if you're flying to the destination.

Keyes believes that one of the site's best features is its powerful flight search engine that allows users to see options from up to seven origins and seven destinations. The tool is great for people who live in between major airports and want to compare options of flights from different cities. Instead of doing repeat searches, or searching in a sea of new tabs, users can input their preferences upfront and receive all the information in one place.

"It'll tell you instantly what is the cheapest fare on any of those 49 routes," Keyes says. "Not only is it really powerful being able to scroll through a tonne of different information at once, but it does so really, really quickly."

Stay in the best neighbourhood, for you

Where you stay can be a game-changer for your experience. Google Travel's new features treat choosing a hotel in the right location thoughtfully, showing users summaries of a city's most appealing neighbourhoods, including what the area is known for and the average cost of its hotels. Select a location, and Google Travel will narrow down your options to a highlighted neighbourhood.

Google Travel will also show you hotels similar to places you've stayed before. If you loved a boutique hotel in San Francisco, for example, Google Travel will remember that, and show you something similar. It'll also keep in mind your search history in a given destination.

"For example, if you've been researching Tokyo Tower, we'll highlight how far it is from hotels nearby," Google explains.

Keyes appreciates the holistic nature of Google integrating all of your profiles to provide new information for travellers.

"They do such a good job of integrating so many different aspects of the things that you're looking for in travel," he says. "You've been poring through Google Maps and see some place and save it. And then next time I want to go to Hawaii, I'll look and say, 'Oh, there are these six places that I wanted to go to all around Waimea. So I should maybe be looking at getting a hotel around there.'"

People who think the personalised results feel too invasive have the ability to disable them in their account settings.

Know the real cost of your trip

One of the most frustrating parts of booking hotels online is seeing one price at the beginning of your research, and ending up with a higher one by the end. Google Travel wants to combat that issue by giving users the opportunity to see the total cost of their whole stay, including taxes and fees, so there are no surprises.

You can now toggle between seeing the hotel's nightly price without the taxes and fees, the nightly total that includes all of the costs, and the stay total that will tally up everything.

Stay one step ahead with trending destinations

As a bonus, Google Travel's debut of its new features also predicted trending destinations for 2020, based on the company's search data from December 2019.

Apparently, travellers are most interested in visiting Danang, Vietnam; Sao Paulo, Brazil; Seoul; Tokyo; Tel Aviv; Marseille, France; Vienna; Bangkok; Dubai; and Perth, Australia.

(c) The Washington Post 2020

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