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Google launches airfare search tool

The tool is speedy, but it shows only domestic, round-trip, economy-class fares, and many small cities are not included. Google plans to upgrade it soon.

September 19, 2011|By Hugo Martín, Los Angeles Times
  • An Apple Store customer tries out an iPad 2. Starting next month, the Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills plans to have an iPad 2 in each of its rooms.
An Apple Store customer tries out an iPad 2. Starting next month, the Four… (Emmanuel Dunand, AFP/Getty…)

Nearly five months after Google Inc. bought a Massachusetts flight-information software company, the Internet giant has unleased the fruits of that $700-million purchase.

Google's airfare search tool was unveiled last week , offering what Google says is a faster, more flexible online tool for finding the lowest fare between two locations. The reviews so far have been mixed, but Google says it plans to upgrade the site soon.

Critics point out that the tool — found at http://www.google.com/flights — shows only domestic, round-trip, economy-class fares, making it ideal for leisure travelers. They also note that flights to many small cities are not yet included.

Unlike a few sites that block out select airlines, the Google site shows prices for all carriers and allows travelers to filter flights by price, number of stops and duration. Other features on the site let travelers see ticket prices over a span of dates and from several airports in a region at the same time.

But none of this is groundbreaking. The travel website Kayak, for example, offers many of the same features, including a map of the region showing the prices of airline tickets to nearby destinations.

The big advantage of the Google site is its speed. "It's almost instantaneous," said Ed Perkins, a contributing editor for the website Smarter Travel.

For now, he said, the site won't be very popular with business travelers, who typically want a selection of seat classes and don't have much flexibility in their flying schedules.

The April acquisition of ITA, the flight-information software company, had unnerved other travel industry players, which worried that it would give Google too much influence over the online travel industry.

For good reason, Perkins said. "Anybody who competes with Google should be worried, just because it's Google and they have the resources and the clout."

Amenities expected on the road

The nation's economic recovery may still be uncertain, but business travelers are expected to hit the road again, and they want hotels to step up with lots of free amenities.

Those are among the conclusions of a survey of more than 2,000 adults, including 780 business travelers, conducted by Harris Interactive on behalf of hotel giant Best Western International Inc.

In the survey, 73% of business travelers said they plan to travel the same or more this fall than they did last fall. And when it comes to hotel amenities, 74% of business travelers said they expect free parking and 65% expect breakfast to be included in the rate.

Eighty percent of business travelers said they want free Internet access on the road.

The biggest pet peeves among business travelers are flight delays (39%), long security lines (32%), lack of quality sleep (29%) and limited healthful food options (29%), according to the survey.

L.A. Four Seasons to put iPads in rooms

When it comes to free in-room amenities, the Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills is offering more than extra towels and tiny shampoo bottles. Starting Oct. 3, all 285 rooms and suites will have Apple Inc.'s iPad 2 tablet computers.

But the tablets are not freebies. Guest can use the high-tech gadgets to order room service, call for the valet to have a car ready, make dinner reservations and call for housekeeping, among other services.

You can use the iPad to do all this free of charge, but if you want to use it to connect to the wireless Internet in the room, there is a daily fee of $8.95 or $14.95, depending on the Internet speed.

The hotel said it is the first Four Seasons in the world to put iPad 2s in the rooms. It is also releasing a smartphone application to let guests order room service and perform the other tasks from a phone.

What's to keep you from walking off with the iPad?

If the device is missing from your room after you check out, the hotel will add a charge of $800 to your credit card.

hugo.martin@latimes.com

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