Monday, February 11, 2008

What if my destination is flexible?

Almost all the flight/train ticket booking sites allow me to search for availability keeping my travel dates open or flexible to the nearest one or two days. This is usually done in order to find availability or to get better deals if you are not particular about a date for travel. Flights offer different ticket rates for different days of the week and also times of the day. I recently had to make a lot of air ticket bookings and that’s when I realized about one more option of getting cheaper air tickets… my destination. What if my destination is also flexible? I’m hearing you asking…
Are you kidding?
No I’m not. Let me explain. I have three airports situated at equal distances from my house in Kerala; Kochi, Kozhikode and Coimbatore. And while I was searching for flights to all the three airports in order to find availability, I found that flights to Coimbatore are generally available and also cheaper. That’s when I was wondering if the air ticket booking sites could introduce a new feature of having my destination also flexible and also give me all the other airports near the one which I primarily searched for.

I know it’s a little tough implementing this on the search page without making the page complex. But then that’s the challenge. When implemented that will be a killer feature. Is my favourite booking site Cleartrip listening? If you do this you will the one of those booking sites which not only allow travelers to book their tickets hassle free but also recommend them ways of saving money. Wouldn’t it be cool if your site can tell the user who just ran a search for flights from Bangalore to Pune that he can also try searching for flights to Bombay and he might get a better deal?

10 comments:

Deeps said...

Do you think this is really possible? What if Airlines are against this move. Will travel sites listen to customers or Airline companies?

Umesh said...

@Deeps I dont see a reason for the airline company to be upset about this. Its they who have fixed the prices to different destinations according to some criteria. Whats wrong in some one suggesting to try flying to another nearest destination? Its not a new funda in ticketing. Just that the online booking sites doesnt have a feature which allows me to compare rates between two different destinations. I normally run two different searches for this.

I agree that to come up with a recommendation engine it will take time but simply to start with if the site can give me a multiple destination for multiple dates kind of a search result is good enough.

Sowmya Karmali said...

I like the idea, Umesh. Looking for nearby airports is a cool feature where possible. Most US travel sites have this feature. I don't think it is going to be as complex as a recommendation engine. Given the (small) number of airports in India, it should be possible to map them radially, and a simple algorithm to pick nearest logical can be done. Cleartrip is my favorite Indian travel site, are they listening?

Susheel Chandradhas said...

Yes, it would certainly be helpful. It would be more helpful if you could select the vicinity in which it searches for recommendations.

For example, while going on a holiday to Goa, I may be willing to fly to a destination that's 250-350 Km away from my ultimate destination; however, on a business trip, I'd like to land a maximum of about 200 Km away.

I wonder if that is possible too.

Raj said...

It is a good feature not only for destination but for origin too. Already implemented in many of the web sites in USA. Visit http://www.sidestep.com/flights , you will see a check box 'show nearby airports' next to From and To. Also if you choose Chicago, you will be given an option (All Airports) other than a specific Airport in Chicago.

Umesh said...

@sowmya its true that to start with the simplest way is to run the algorithm to find the nearest airport like raj showed us in http://www.sidestep.com/flights. But later on after the usage patterns evolve it will be wonderful if the site can recommend. eg: in the example which i said about the airports near my home town, instead of just showing the nearest airports, the site should be able to say that people who searched for kochi actually opted to fly to coimbatore coz of cheaper fares and avilability. thats a little more thinking work we are asking the computer to do.

@susheel your question is how far can be the nearest airport from the primary airport? Yes that info helps, if my destination is the city where the airport is. But here is again a slight issue for people whose exact destination is not the city he is flying to. eg my house is 100 kms away from kochi airport. ie even tho i'm fliying to kochi i have to still travel 100 kms to reach my final destination. coimbatore is also 100 kms away from my house but on the opposite direction. Now how useful it is for me to know that coimbatore airport is 200 kms away from kochi airport? so the distance part only works if the site knows our exact destination. i think so. please correct me if i'm wrong.

@raj the site shows details exactly like how we recommended as the starter. But its a little low in usability. an easy comparison is not possible in the search result. i like the way cleartrip shows flexible dates in the search result. very easy to compare. we need something like that for different airports.

Rupesh said...

What an idea Sirji!
I too often face this problem. Since i do spend a good amount on travel in india whenever i'm there, am always on the look out for economic options. And like Umesh i find myself looking to land in all the nearby airports to the final destination. WIll really be great if can be implemented.

H said...

You might want to check this one: http://www.getawayassistant.com/
It helps you deal with flexible destinations which are not necessarily close to each other.

Akshay S Kanitkar said...

Hi

I agree that to come up with a recommendation engine it will take time but simply to start with if the site can give me a multiple destination for multiple dates kind of a search result is good enough. jetairtickets

Anonymous said...

www.sidestep.com let's you select an option to search nearby airports...it's incredibly useful.

I'd like a site that searches for cheapest destination from a set starting point on any given pair of travel dates.