Internet search leader Google Inc. is scouting out the travel bookings business with a new feature that connects users to travel agencies that offer the cheapest fares.
Google said on Tuesday it was testing the feature, putting it in competition with travel search sites like Sidestep and Kayak, which sift through all published bookings information for fares and reservation prices.
The feature would not compete directly with services offered by online travel agencies Expedia and Travelocity. But those agencies and others are being crowded somewhat by the search sites that perform the similar function of locating cheap fares.
"It takes you right into the site that's prepopulated with departure and arrival information and the dates. It's a very interesting feature," Lorraine Sileo, analyst at travel research company PhocusWright, said of the Google feature.
"Google is really showing what kind of influence they have on travel," she said. "It's really combining the shopping and the buying."
On Google, users can input specific flight inquiries between two points, such as Seattle to Chicago. The search results feature Web links to the sites that offer fare information.
For example, a search of Detroit and Miami yields a link to Expedia.com, which offers booking information and allows customers to purchase tickets. Google's feature allows users to enter their preferred dates of travel before searching.
Unlike full-service online travel agencies Expedia and Travelocity, travel search engines do not sell fares. They only locate the fares and give links to sites that offer bookings.
For now the search features only works for certain city pairs. A Google search of a city pairing like Chicago and Little Rock, Arkansas, yields no fare information.
A Google spokeswoman did not say when or if the feature would be expanded or made permanent.
Google is not the first search engine to dabble in the travel business. Last month, Yahoo Inc. said it plans to offer tools that turn Yahoo Travel into an online travel guide and encourages users to publish and share their itineraries.