Making sure you pay a reasonable fare for flights often feels like a fool’s errand. If you’re lucky, you’ll snag a mistake fare or flash sale. More often, you’ll deliberate ad nauseam. Do you book? Do you wait? Can anyone actually beat airlines at their own game?
Alphabet Inc.’s Google aims to change that. On April 3, the search giant announced a new price-guarantee feature that promises to monitor prices daily and pay customers the difference if their fare drops at any point from booking to departure.
For now, it applies only to select US flights on Alaska, Spirit and Hawaiian airlines. If the round-trip flight itinerary you’re booking qualifies, you’ll spot a light blue-colored price-guarantee badge that shows up above the fare option, whether for basic economy or main cabin. You must then book the itinerary directly through Google, using the “Book on Google” link in search results. This means you enter your information and payment details on a Google-hosted platform that passes it to the airline, which then confirms and manages the reservation.
“What we’re wanting to do is to take [our] price insights to the next level,” says Jade Kessler, product manager at Google Flights. “We have hopes to offer this to as many users as possible and expand it beyond just Book on Google.” Although there’s no official expansion timeline, Google says its long-term plan is to roll out the guarantee feature across as many US and international flights via as many carriers as it can.
As for the rebates, customers will receive email notifications and see the payments appear automatically in their Google Pay accounts. From there, they will be free to transfer that money to personal bank accounts. Those without a Google Pay account will receive instructions on how to set it up to access the funds.
Google declined to discuss how often it anticipates having to compensate customers for fare drops, only to reaffirm its confidence in the accuracy of its predictive algorithms.
Google says it does not charge airlines for flight reservations through Book on Google nor does it receive percentage revenue from the airlines for using this feature; all costs for the price guarantee will be borne by the search giant. Google’s Price Guarantee joins its bag of consumer tools to monitor the cost of airfare, including its price graph, Explore map and price-tracking alerts.
“We hope that people will trust Google Flights whenever they need to find a great deal on air travel, and the price guarantee could help build that trust even further,” says Kessler.
The timing seems opportune, with travelers growing more sensitive to price levels amid inflation and scaling back on trips. Google ran a pilot program on this price-guarantee feature in 2019 but put it on pause; it resumed the effort in 2022 with public testing in the fourth quarter.