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Google's updated flight-search tool spikes fear among booking apps

Google is making a stronger stake in the mobile travel sector by rolling out an updated flight-search tool that will enable consumers to use their mobile devices to search for fare prices and a slew of flight options and may cut into the crowded sector of booking applications.

Google Flights, which was first introduced in 2011 and is mobile-optimized, mimics other travel marketers such as Kayak and Orbitz by allowing guests to filter available flights and schedules to find the most cost-effective price. However, the search conglomerate is attempting to differentiate itself from booking apps by offering the unique feature of helping consumers plan a trip even if they do not have a particular destination selected.

?This is scary for booking apps because Google now owns the entire fulfillment chain,? said Aurelie Guerrieri, general manager North America at MobPartner, San Francisco, CA. ?Most bookings start by search (mobile or online).

?It creates new revenue stream for Google to charge travel partners for this. UX removes all the friction - as good if not better than what the travel sites have done.?

Easy travel arrangements
Users can select the ?Flights? tab in Google to visit the homepage, which features boxes for inputting destinations and travel dates. Other filtering options include stops, airlines, prices, times and duration.

Travelers can search for potential vacation spots via a world map, which displays red dots in locations all over the world. Consumers can input their trip?s starting point and tap on the red dots to view the price of a flight to that location, along with the duration.

This feature was designed to inspire users that may not have a specific destination picked out. As many booking apps and sites do not offer this type of capability, Google?s interactive map could help augment the flight-search tool and perhaps steal some business from other major brands.

The Flight tab?s homepage also offers popular destinations with high-resolution images displaying the least expensive prices and most direct routes.

The tool arrives on the heels of a study commissioned by Google concerning travelers? habits and attitudes in making decisions. Key findings showed that social media apps and video and photo sites took first place for striking the most travel inspiration for consumers, followed closely by search engines.

Perhaps most interestingly, Google discovered that leisure travelers are turning to search engines before heading to branded mobile apps or sites, prompting it to put a strong stake in the sector.

Flexible search
Fans of Google?s proprietary ?I?m Feeling Lucky? search button can use it to ask the site to generate a random destination, another feature which booking apps do not offer. Customers can also leverage the flexible date search capability to view prices across several months and ensure they are receiving the best deal.

Google believes that offering these types of options may sway consumers in its favor, as the study also revealed that travel enthusiasts do visit the same sites on mobile devices as they do on desktops, meaning that search engines grab a significant 43 percent of types of sites by consumers on a variety of devices.

Google has also found that early influence on mobile is paramount for driving purchase decisions, as many travelers find inspiration for trips on smartphones during spare moments, such as commuting or waiting in lines.

Cross-device planning is also a popular trend that marketers should keep track of.

Ultimately, Google Flights may steal some of booking apps? thunder if consumers increasingly move towards search engines for their planning and browsing needs. If Google decides to offer a booking functionality in the Flights tab, the space truly may become too crowded for any new players to break through.

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Final Take
Alex Samuely is an editorial assistant on Mobile Marketer, New York