Google Travel Team Shares New Trends and Tools is a fun way to find and book travel using your own priorities.

At the launch this week of an enhanced Google Flights search engine, the team at Google Travel shared some interesting travel trends culled from users’ search patterns. Although their predictions come from broad search engine queries related to hotels, flights, attractions and more – done by users of all demographics – I think they tell us a lot about what families are thinking.

Destinations Farther and More Undecided

According to the 2014 Traveler’s Road to Decision, Google and Ipsos MediaCT study, 54% of travelers don’t know (or don’t care?) where they’re going when they begin to plan travel. One in five (20%) of Google Flights searches are only looking for a weekend getaway. A full 85% plan their hotel stay with no particular brand in mind.

This is great news because it levels the playing field for new destinations, hotels and attractions, and also means that travelers, inspired by a stronger economy and millennial wanderlust, are up for something new. They are probably traveling more often, too. Since we know that once families begin to travel they get hooked -– nurturing our next generation of travelers — this can only drive big industry growth.

Trip Planning Taken on the Road

We know smartphone usage for planning has grown amazingly fast (42% of users now access this site by phone or tablet vs. 33% a year ago), but Google says that in 2014, 11% of all travel — and 20% of all cruise vacations – was actually booked on a mobile device. One quarter of all Google Flights users reach the service by mobile, which is why Flights is seamlessly integrated in the Google  app.

Google says that 67% of trip planners also watch videos, and that users average seven online sessions and visit 15 sites over a three-week period prior to travel, to make and refine plans.

Director at Google Travel Rob Torres forecasts that by July 2015, 50% of all travel queries to Google Search will be mobile. That’s largely because it’s the preferred information tool used during the travel experience.

Google App Evolves into Your BFF

Another shift is the big investment in apps that enable travel planning. Google, available for iOS and Android devices, has so many uses that she’s become Mom’s Little Helper.

She listens politely and answers you, making hands-free driving a reality. She nudges you when necessary, and lets you know she knows more than you do, without making you feel dumb. Thanks to partnerships with Kayak, TripAdvisor, Airbnb and many other content providers, Google has become an especially rich resource for travelers.

With some practice and online tutorials, you can set reminders to wake the dog or pack the breast milk; follow weather at your destination; set time zones; ask for and hear language translations; get a full itinerary with the flights, car rental bookings and hotel stays with confirmation numbers and bar codes you can never find in your own Inbox.

Cars, Driverless or Not, are the New Low Cost Carriers

Given that Google has seen a big surge in searches for staycation and hotels close to users’ home location, they’re predicting lots of short haul travel by car this summer. They also forecast an increase in long-range road trips due to lower gas prices.

Drivers will find the Google toolshed really handy. Ask Ms. Goonavi (that’s what we’ve named our Google Maps voice) about fun local attractions; or let the backseat guide you to restrooms, clean motels, gas stations and funky diners nearby your location. It’s all available free, once you sign onto the app and give it access to your personal data.

That’s the way it will learn to understand your voice commands, get smarter about your preference for nightclubs over playgrounds, and be able to find bookings in your email account to load calendar reminders. It works best with Gmail notes Aparna Chennapragada, Director, Product Management, because Gmail can parse data better than other email clients. More improvements are promised.

Google Flights Tips to Find the Cheapest Flight

Given the intense competition from travel app innovators like Hipmunk, the souped-up Google Flights tool should help families find cheaper and better fares from the millions of options online, says Kourosh Gharachorloo, Engineering Director. In describing the complexity of designing a smarter search function for flights, he noted that each year there are more than one trillion valid flights departing from New York City alone. Google’s goal is to use technology to “do the heavy lifting and make life easier for our users,” he added. Just what mom wants to hear.

I like Flights because the “best” results are ranked based on the best trade-off between price, duration, number of stops, and sometimes other factors such as amenities and baggage fees. Product Manager Eric Zimmerman told us that 85% of users pick one of the three “best” flights. Only 20% selected the longest but cheapest flight, reflecting how savvy consumers have become about finding value.

Zimmerman also shared that advance booking of flights was key to finding the best prices. After extensive testing, they found that rates are lowest at least 21 days in advance of travel, and that prices begin to rise about 17 to 21 days prior, often peaking just before your departure date. A graph of projected prices displays below your calendar view, and Tips come up if Flights sees potential savings, such as flying a day before or after. Although Flights offers users the ability to save an itinerary, that doesn’t lock in price. Zimmerman urges travelers to book as soon as possible and avoid the anxiety of hoping for a fare drop. Keeping that in mind, if you begin planning early enough, you can ask Flights to email you if there’s a big drop in prices to your chosen destination.

Extending the Functionality & Fun of Google Flights

Flights is easy to use, with inputs required only for dates and your destination (“from” is prepopulated if you’re logged into Google.) Their map of popular destinations is surrounded by a tantalizing array of images with location and current airfares on view, and expands out to the whole globe. As you change travel dates, airfares change too and, if you want to learn more about what hotels will cost at your destination, you can open the Google Hotel Finder — also a great tool.

Not sure where you want to go? Tell Flights you’re interested in a region such as Hawaii or the Caribbean, a functionality that has been very popular. Or, go wild with the I’m Feeling Lucky button. Kids will really enjoy seeing an array of vacation options that you probably never considered, so it’s a fun way to involve them in the trip planning process.

Flights tells you if the aircraft has a power outlet, personal video monitor, or WiFi (woohoo!)

As the OTAs have cluttered their flight results pages with pop-ups for rival sites that pay them a commission for sending leads, Google’s page is refreshingly white. Simple and direct. The travel team says Flights results are not affected by advertisers, but ads do run in the right rail, and can be useful, too.

As one Google executive told me at the event, “We can’t figure out how to make money from it but we are having fun making the best product out there.” 

Love that attitude.



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