Bing vs. The Other Guys: Who’s Got The Cheapest Tickets?
Friday, October 9, 2009
In the spirit of “Beach Week” (not to be confused with “Shark Week”, that other perennial, much ballyhooed 7-day national holiday), I decided to conduct a very unscientific study: How does Bing’s new search engine hold up?
Let’s say I wanted to head to Curacao in late January during my birthday to scuba away those last remnants of my ’20’s. By starting off at Bing I clicked on “Travel” on the left-hand column to bring me to their travel page. I decided to match them up against Kayak and SkyScanner, two of my standbys that seem to always come up with the best prices.
On the front page and in its many advertisements, Bing boasts about their “Know When To Buy ™” technology, a colored arrow chart that purportedly predicts whether prices are going going to drop (or rise) from what you’re seeing at that moment. Unfortunately for my search to Curacao, my result yielded a “No Price Predictor” result. Clicking on the “Learn Why” link, I learned that this only applies to domestic U.S. flights. Why? No idea, but kind of a bummer.
And the results? Bing found a direct flight through American for $518, Kayak found the same flight for the same price, exactly as it predicted in the handy calendar that appears on the home page before you even search, showing you recent, cheap tickets recently purchased for your cities (a feature Bing should definitely attempt to copy).
And SkyScanner? Well, I have to say it wins for the most complex results. It’s top result was a $732 ticket using a combination of a 25-hour flight (with a layover) on Air Jamaica, then a 1-stop return flight via Surinam Airways and Caribbean Airlines. I guess the upshot here is that you get to check Surinam Airways off your list of airlines taken.
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To see Bing’s price predictor in action I decided to test out a domestic flight to L.A. for that same week, perfect for my chance to pitch that Citizen Kane sequel I’ve been working on with Shia LaBeouf as the star (“Citizen Kane 2: Rosebud’s Revenge”).
Bing turned up a $259 flight via United, and, here’s the kicker: Bing offered up a big, green arrow and said it’s 85% sure that “Lowest fares are likely to rise or hold steady within the next 7 days.” Well, that clears that up.
Both Kayak and CheapTickets came up with flights for the same price (o.k., Kayak found an AirTran flight for a dollar cheaper). And just for kicks, a search through Virgin American resulted in a ticket for $324 (although they do advertise wi-fi — nice, but not worth $65).
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So the lesson here? Probably what both you and I have been suspecting for a while. Most of the big sites are basically searching the same inventory of airlines that are constantly watching each others’ fares, resulting in prices that are pretty similar across the board.
What about the add-ons? I can’t say that Bing’s fare predictor is going to have me flocking to their site anytime soon, whereas I still feel like I’m partial to Kayak’s calendar predictor (what better way to waste time than to plug in fantasy flights and see what pops up without ever having to even click the search button?).
And as far as my birthday goes, I’m no closer to deciding what to do than when I started. But suggestions are welcome, as well as unsolicited invites. See you there?