Sunday, December 19, 2004

Travel sites, here's some free advice!

I've been thinking a lot lately about taking a 2-3 week trip somewhere after school. I don't really care where, so long as it's outside the US and somewhere I haven't already been (Mexico, Canada, Caribbean, Ireland, England, Netherlands, France, and Israel).

I'd especially like to see Asia, especially Tokyo and Hong Kong. Perhaps its a coincidence, and/or perhaps it's related to having just finished reading two books set in Japan (Digital Dreams: The work of the Sony Design Center) and China (The Diamond Age), both of which got me thinking about how close we are in the world of technology and the Internet despite our distances and differences. It amazes me how many people I know here in the US that have never visited the East, myself included.

So I got to thinking.. How does one go about finding plane tickets when he knows when he wants to travel, and has a general idea about but doesn't know exactly where he wants to go and exactly how much he wants to spend?

Yahoo! Travel is one of the last remaining travel sites I know of that allows users to search by destination without specifying dates, then sort through the results based on price.

But wouldn't it be cool if there was a site that allowed users to search by whichever parameters they choose (origin, destination, price, date, duration) and sort based on whichever parameters they choose as well?

It seems the major travel sites - Orbitz, Expedia, the airlines themselves - have only incorporated search as an auxiliary function of their E-Commerce driven sites.

Wouldn't it be cool to be able to search for roundtrip flights from anywhere in Southern California to anywhere in Western Europe, not necessarily to/from the same cities (maybe I could fly into London, out of Paris, chunnel between), results sorted by duration, date, price, and destination?

Wouldn't it be cool to enter an originating city, a date range, a duration range, and be shown a map of Asia with a price on every major city? Then hover my mouse pointer over a city to get more information? Or adjust a simple slider to change the date range or duration?

Google's built a sustainable business out of search and advertising. Why couldn't Orbitz? If you're intelligent, you only use Orbitz for search anyhow, right? You search Orbitz for the cheapest flight, then purchase your ticket from the airline directly and save the $7-$16 booking fee you would've paid to Orbitz.

At this point, I'd argue that Orbitz banks on many people not being intelligent and/or not caring (similar to Casinos that bank on the same). But expanding their search functionality wouldn't deprive them of that income stream. And if they don't do it, someone else will come along and do it in their place (Google?).

It would potentially facilitate more ticket sales.. the airlines could sell more tickets on routes for which demand isn't high to consumers that would otherwise not fly.

Though whether that is in fact the case or not doesn't much matter.. if Orbitz, Expedia, and/or the airlines don't do it, someone else will in their place.. eventually.. I hope..

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