There are a lot of moving pieces when it comes to researching and booking travel, including choosing dates, reserving flights and hotels, and filling out the itinerary with things to see, do, and eat. And many of us already handle a lot of that using Google.
So it makes sense that the online behemoth has its sights set on becoming an all-encompassing travel planning and booking resource through Google Travel, the latest iteration of which launched this month. Google Travel marries all of Google’s existing travel properties—Google Flights, Google Hotels, Google Trips, and Google Maps—into a single destination that can now be used across mobile and desktop devices (it was previously only accessible on mobile).
The idea is to provide a single place to organize all the things related to your travel planning for any given trip into one comprehensive itinerary, complete with the ability to edit and adjust different elements of the trip across devices as you go. Start researching flights on your smartphone while in line to get coffee, then pick it up back on your desktop during your lunch break (we feel you, Google).
And if it seems like this isn’t a new endeavor for Google, that’s because Google Travel, and all its moving pieces, is very much an ongoing project that includes constant updates in features and usability. Earlier this year, Google Hotels added vacation rentals to its search option. Last year, Google Flights added a feature that allows users to get push notifications when there is a predicted flight delay.
A Google Travel test run
To get a sense of where Google Travel currently is and where it could and maybe should go, I put it to the test on an existing trip as well as on an upcoming one. For anyone with a Google account, you might be pleasantly surprised (or slightly freaked out) to find that Google already has any current or past travel reservations, confirmations for which were sent to your gmail account, already loaded up. It has some Potential Trips lined up “based on your recent activity” as well. We’ll leave the convenience versus privacy debate for another time.
When I entered Google Trips, it listed under Past Trips all my travel dating back to 2014 (there was a lot). Under Upcoming Trips was a reservation I have for an Airbnb at The Sea Ranch early in June labeled “Weekend in Sea Ranch” with a tab below to “continue planning” (don’t mind if I do).
Clicking that brought me to my Weekend in Sea Ranch page that listed options such as “travel research,” which claimed to be for saved searches and price tracking, but I could not easily figure this part out. There was also a “continue exploring” section, which is basically a collection of things people would typically search about a trip, such as best restaurants in the area and nearby events.
A travel guide links to a page that offers a list of local attractions (complete with Google user reviews), a map and directions (through Google Maps of course), a series of travel videos produced by various media sources (this felt kind of random), and then links to other nearby destinations.
I could definitely see how this would all be very useful if and when I decided to build upon my trip or in a panicked, last-minute state actually try to figure out what we’re going to do while there.
Then I moved on to a possible upcoming family trip for Thanksgiving. I searched for flights on Google Flights for all four of us, and clicking the option to track the flight search eventually made this trip and flight search pop up in Upcoming Trips. Note: This didn’t happen right away, forcing me to re-enter my flight details (for my complicated family of four, that includes one lap child and a seat-needing toddler) several times before it was saved.
Once I moved past the frustration of the delayed save, I found the flight search and tracker tool quite useful—in fact, I’ve set up a flight tracker for those November flights when airfares often soar to help me decide when we should book. And my flight search now appears under the Upcoming Trip that was created for that Thankgiving travel, a page where I can also search for and book hotel or vacation rental stays, and have access to all the same tools listed above for Upcoming Trips.
The (patchy) path to greatness
All told, Google Travel is definitely a work in progress. The desktop interface could be a bit, how should we say this—prettier? But it is simple and not overly complicated, which makes it relatively easy to use.
The mobile element is also a little confusing because there is an app for Google Trips, but that is set to expire in August 2019. You can access Google Hotels or Google Flights on your phone via your internet browser by going to Google.com/hotels or Google.com/flights. But the best option is going to Google.com/travel on your phone’s browser, as at least all the search and booking options are listed right there, same as on the desktop version.
One area that appears to show the greatest potential in the Google Travel-verse is the ways in which all these tools could ultimately be accessible through Google Maps, a travel tool and map that, let’s face it, many of us could not live without.
Google is definitely taking a slow-and-steady approach to its potential takeover of the travel planning and booking world. With each announcement of a new Google Travel feature often comes a casual side note about elements that are still in the works. (The company’s latest Google Trips update noted that in the next few months, hotel and restaurant reservations will be accessible in Google Maps, too.) Nevertheless, said potential takeover is very likely coming, it’s just a matter of when.