Flights: Does Google Flights lie about cost?
I was doing my usual beginning of the week flight cost research, looking at flights over the next few months to a range of destinations.
I’m trawling the internet for cheap ways to earn status credits to renew my Qantas Platinum status for another year – you see.
To find out how many points and status credits you might earn on a particular flight, it helps to know what the fare category is – which will determine if the fare is categorised as a discount, ordinary or a flexible fare. You can then map that fare code against the Qantas status credit earnings table, and hence work out how many Status Credits you will earn for the flight.
I digress, this post is about how Google Flights results don’t always match the prices shown on the booking options.
Google flight ‘prices’ don’t match those on ‘booking options’.
At the bottom of your selected flights on a Google Flights search, there is a list of ‘Booking Options’. Aside from the oft-overlooked fact that these are headed up ‘Ads’ with a warning that google may be ‘compensated’ by some of the suggested providers, it turns out that what you see, is not necessarily what you may get.
I had cause to go through to the actual ticketing provider after searching on Google Flights, and I found, to my absolute horror, that the price showing on Google Flights was completely different to that showing once I had clicked through to the supplier, in this case – Expedia
Under Booking Options on Google, I’m shown that the cost on Expedia will be AU$5,679. However, when I click through, I am shown AU$6,776.84 as being the cost. Now the notes on google do say that:
‘Additional bag fees and other fees may apply.’
But surely not over AU$1,000 worth?
Oh, I thought – maybe this is just a Google thing, and all the prices on all the booking options are wrong because they don’t include these afore-said fees.
Let’s look at another of the options provided – GoToGate . . .
Well, that IS the same price that Google Flights lists. Probably an anomaly. Let’s look at another one – Japan Airlines (JAL).
On the JAL website, the price is in fact AU$5,623.04, instead of AU$6,334, a saving of AU$711 on the Google price.
Is Expedia giving me false prices?
I tried a few other destinations and on the whole, Expedia results on Google matched those when I clicked through to the Expedia.com website – give or take.
What’s going on then?
I don’t think its anything underhanded. Aggregating airfare searches are pretty complex although Google Flights attempts to make it look easy.
The software they use is based on ITA Matrix Airfare Search which is software developed by a bunch of computer scientists at MIT. Google purchased this software in 2011 and uses it to power Google Flights but in a much more user-friendly and faster way.
For what its worth, searching directly in ITA Matrix threw up a whole different set of results, as I couldn’t filter for OneWorld member airlines. The cheapest result was on a combination of Asiana, KLM and Korean Air. I couldn’t even find some of the results options thrown up by Google Flights. (It should be noted that I searched for this about 5 hours after my initial Google flights search – so seat availability may have been different.)
I did a few other searches – same dates and city pair, but different results, depending on which search website I used.
Primarily – don’t believe the flight price you see in Google flights until you go through to the purchasing option to confirm.
Although Google Flights is a quick and easy way to search and provides lots of options you can tailor, and it’s very quick. Don’t make it your only tool for searching for flights. Use other tools including ITA Matrix, even though it is only an information tool, and does not provide purchasing options. Also use other tools like Skyscanner, Hipmunk. They all excel at different things and will be suitable for different people.
I like the way Hipmunk displays flights and delays as a kind of Gant chart, and that you can sort things by ‘Agony’, which avgeek though I am, I still value!