This week has been all about Microsoft's Bing, the company's rival to Google. And now that its travel engine is live too, ready to help you globe-trot, we've taken it for a very quick spin for you.
Bing Travel may just be one of Microsoft's killer features for Bing, making the most of Bing's decision engine to help with travel plans--normally a job that involves lots of hassle. When you visit the bing.com/travel URL you're faced with a pretty standard trip planning page, in Bing's attractive design wrapper, that's set to search for flight info as a default. You can also flip it to search for hotels using the same engine, or choose cars, cruises and vacations, but those last three are via sponsorship partner Orbitz.
As luck would have it, my wife needed to book a flight to the UK, so she set off on the task on one computer, and I tried to use Bing on the other. And instantly I hit a snag--just a niggly one, but it clangs a lot. Selecting date and destination was easy, but Bing only lets you choose the number of adults on the first page--not so handy for our baby son. Worse, the first results page only returned flights in U.S. dollars only. There seems to be no way to switch that, though, bizarrely, Bing has already detected I'm in Europe.
It gets worse. I was pretty satisfied with the search results, noting the cheapest return flight came to around $210, which seemed reasonable. A quick scan down the price-prioritized list showed the results came via different travel agency sources, slightly irritatingly with an Orbitz price placed right next to each, but the handy "compare to" tabs meant I could flip up a page with Expedia's results to check their pricing. Then I checked the panel that lets you subset the results list by airline. It showed EasyJet as the cheapest, with a $2515 fare. Say what? I know EasyJet usually has the lowest fares, but this looked like there must've been a bug in the search tool. Meanwhile my wife popped in and said she'd already booked a return trip via EasyJet for €200 ($280), including all flight taxes--a cost Bing doesn't show directly (turns out the prices include taxes and surcharges, at least for those I tried out.)
Those problems aside--clicking on a particular flight takes you to the source website so you can book it, and that all worked rather smoothly, with the relevant data being passed from Bing correctly.
Testing out the hotel booking section from within a Bing flight search pops up a totally new window, with the dates pre-selected. The results proved surprisingly cheap, and there's an option to narrow the search by hotel rating, price bracket, available amenities and brand.
Bing's "Airfare Deals" section seems to only prioritize U.S. flights, but it nicely aggregates all the available cheap deals if you're looking for a quick getaway. Meanwhile the destinations tab gives you a world map, and lets you dig around among photos and reviews to plan the best holiday. In combination with the flight and hotel bookings tabs, that's basically all you'd need to arrange a complete trip.
So...that's not an exhaustive test, and, indeed, your mileage may vary. But it revealed that Bing Travel is a powerful tool--terribly useful for booking flights and hotels with minimum fuss, since you avoid moving from travel site to travel site. I suspect my wife beat me to the flight booking because she's an absolute expert, and I was dallying, yet all the same Bing has a number of flaws that really stand out. I know it's beta software, and I really hope Microsoft irons them out soon.
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