Earlier this week, Google introduced a suite of new search features that will hopefully reduce some anxiety around travel planning. These tools, which promise to help make looking for places to stay and things to do more convenient, also include a “price guarantee” through the “Book with Google” option for flights departing from the US—which is Google’s way of saying that this deal is the best it’s going to get “before takeoff.”
Already, Google offers ways to get data around historical prices for the flight they want to book. But many companies use revenue-maximizing AI algorithms to vary individual ticket pricing based on the capacity of the plane, demand, and competition with other airlines. This puts the onus on consumers to continuously monitor and research tickets in order to get the best deal. Specialty sites and hacks have popped up, offering loopholes around dynamic pricing (much to the dismay of major airlines).
Google’s pilot program for ticket pricing appears to offer another solution for consumers so they don’t have to constantly shop around for prices and come back day after day. To back it, Google says that if the price drops after booking, it will send you the difference back via Google Pay.
The fine print (available via an online help document) specifies that the price difference must be greater than $5 and every user is limited to $500 per calendar year. And only users with a US billing address, phone number, and Google account can take advantage of this algorithm. Still, the fact that a person could receive back several hundred dollars after booking feels non-trivial.
According to The Washington Post, “airlines have to partner with Google to participate in the Book on Google program — and to appear on Google Flights in the first place,” therefore it’s possible that users will still have to do some independent research for tickets offered by airlines outside of the partnerships. And since it’s only a pilot program, the feature in and of itself is subject to change.
“For now, Alaska, Hawaiian and Spirit Airlines are the main Book on Google partners, so they are likely to have the most price-guaranteed itineraries during the pilot phase,” USA Today reported. “But Google representatives said they’re hoping to expand the program to more carriers soon.”
The Verge noted that price guarantees aren’t a new thing in the travel space. For example, “Priceline and Orbitz both promise partial refunds under certain circumstances, as do some individual airlines.”
Interested in testing this out? Head on over to Google flights and look for the rainbow shield icon when browsing for tickets.