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Tapping Big Data to Make Air Booking Easier

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    January 07, 2014

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We're incredibly lucky here at Expedia to help millions of people all over the world find their perfect trip every day. It's a huge privilege for us to get to play this role and one of the outcomes is that we get to spot trends early and see what's working for which customers and why.

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We can leverage certain patterns from large amounts of unidentifiable data we have in our system. This data helps us serve future customers better, just like the customers before you helped make your experience better. It's the power of big data: tapping into it well means we can make booking your travel easier so you can focus on what really matters – enjoying your trip. Today we have a few examples of features we've implemented to make customers' travel booking experience better through big data: Flight Recommendations, Scratchpad and Itinerary Sharing.

Flight Recommendations: Let's take the typical flight booking experience. You are planning a trip and throw out dates and an airport, not knowing what options may be the most affordable or convenient. Then you search again with a return date that's one day before, then you search again with a different airport. Before you know it, you've searched with ten, twenty, even thirty different parameters and you have a long list of options but very little confidence that you're going to book the right flight at the best value. So you close your browser and come back the next day to start over again. Our research shows, in fact, that the average traveler searches as many as 48 times across the web before feeling confident enough to book air travel. We think you'd rather spend your time thinking about the beach you're going to than searching for that perfect needle in the haystack of an air ticket that's going to get you there. And we get to use technology to solve that problem.

That's where our new Flight Recommendations feature comes in. Using an underlying data tool we call Travel Graph, we can analyze customer travel and booking patterns to deliver alternative routes or travel dates that may appeal to you. By using real, anonymized search and booking data from over a million flight searches a day on Expedia, we can provide a better projection of what you'll encounter than others in the industry who deliver cached search results. We've slowly been rolling out the feature to our users, and today it's available to the majority of customers in the US. We expect to roll it out globally during 2014.

Expedia Search

Here's how it works: When you visit Expedia.com and perform a search, you'll notice a small box above your standard search results. In addition to the search results you see, you'll also be able to compare how your query results compare to others with similar searches with one or two parameters changed then you'll see the results of these alternative searches that may yield a cheaper or more convenient travel solution for you. If you see something you like in the Flight Recommendations box, simply click on it and you'll be redirected to a new search page. The specific page placement of this feature may change over the coming year with our testing.

Let's say, for example, that I live in between Seattle and Portland and am looking to fly to Miami. I have an idea of a date I want to leave and what airport I should use, but it turns out I can get a cheaper fare by leaving a couple days earlier, which I discover by viewing the image of Flight Recommendations and then clicking. I also discover that perhaps I can get a better fare switching from flying into Fort Myers instead of Miami. I can see this data because other Expedia customers have completed searches like mine and found these deals.

Scratchpad: With Flight Recommendations, we've made progress on helping you find the right flights for you. But what do you do when you've got a few options that have bubbled to the top and now you need to talk to your travel companion before making a decision? Well, we've done a lot of research on how people search for trips and discovered that the thing we do most is pretty old school: we write it down on a piece of paper. That's right. With all the bells and whistles of technology out there, most of us still rely on the pretty old-fashioned pen and paper. Even the most technophiles among us take a radical approach and – gasp – copy and paste the flights or hotels into an email to save their options for later. We think it's time for a change.

During our research, customers tell us the old school methods of saving their search information serves a few needs:

  • It's a memory aid to note dates, costs, key details like hotel locations or amenities, and phone numbers.
  • It's used as a comparison tool to easily compare hotels, flights, deals, etc. Typically customers write down between 2 to 8 hotels for comparison.
  • It's used to communicate later to share with others (spouse, friends, family, etc.) and build a group consensus on travel plans.

We mentioned earlier that our research shows that, on average, people search 48 times across travel sites before making a flight booking. Not only is that a waste of time, but because prices and availability change between searches, the whole process can be a major downer. Our research also shows that if a customer makes a search, 30 seconds into reviewing the results, he can't specifically recall an item that he saw - meaning he could look at it a few times and not realize he was repeating himself.

No one should have to spend this kind of wasted time planning their trip when they could be dreaming about their trip, so we are making this a lot easier by presenting Scratchpad, a new way to store content you've searched for and easily come back to it. With Scratchpad, whether researching on mobile, tablet or desktop devices, we'll save your recent search history so you can access it later. If you're signed in to your Expedia account, you'll be able to access your Scratchpad on any device – smartphone, tablet or desktop. This feature is available today across the US and customers around the world will have access to it later this year.

Scratchpad

How it works: When you search for a flight or hotel, your search data is stored for you to access and manage via the Scratchpad menu on your next visit to our site. To access Scratchpad, visit the upper-right corner of your Expedia.com webpage when you are logged in. If you click on the Scratchpad menu, you'll see a list of searches and hotels you've viewed recently, including the last price you saw and the date of your search. Clicking on any of the items in the Scratchpad tray – aka, the dropdown menu you see – will take you to the hotel or search you last viewed and allow you to repeat your search if you choose. When you click on the "view all items in Scratchpad" link, your recent search results are listed for you and prices and availability for these searches are updated. You can click on a search result to resume searching or to make a booking. There's also a feature for you to get your Scratchpad notes in email: if you click on the "send me notes" button, you'll get a list of recently added Scratchpad items sent to your email – allowing you to easily continue your travel searching and booking process.

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The power of Scratchpad comes to life when you're shopping across devices, as so many of us do these days. JiWire's Q1 2013 insights report indicates that "nearly 50% of active mobile consumers use their smartphone and tablet for travel research." With Scratchpad, no matter where you do your research – mobile phone app, mobile web, tablet app, tablet web or desktop – as long as you're logged in, all that research is stored for you when you log back in on your desktop, eliminating the need to start your search from scratch every time.

Itinerary Sharing: The research that led us to develop Scratchpad also encouraged us to implement another feature: Itinerary Sharing. Knowing people often write down their trip information to share it with friends and family, we now offer an option for customers to share their live itineraries. We've long offered an option for travelers to share their booked itinerary via email, and while that option still exists for desktop customers, the data you receive in an email is static. However, now with mobile itinerary sharing, once a trip is booked, you can share your itinerary with folks who may need it via email, AirDrop, text message or Facebook. If the person you shared your itinerary with is also an Expedia mobile user, they'll have access to the same real-time live data on your itinerary that you experience on your mobile device – so they can receive push notifications about delays or your landing time. Here are some examples of how Itinerary Sharing works:

Mobile AirDrop Itinerary Notification Message


This makes tracking flight departures and arrival times a breeze. Not so long ago, your special someone who is planning to pick you up at the airport used to have to wait in airport parking lots or call the airlines for information on flight arrival times. Now your loved ones can quickly and easily monitor your flight details right from their Expedia mobile app.

With millions of people using Expedia every month to search and book flights and hotels and each one searching up to 48 times to try to gain confidence that they are getting the best value for the right trip, searching for trips can sometimes feel like the most trying part of travel. We're geared up with new features to help make travel easier and would love your feedback on how these features are working for you.

Expedia compensates authors for their writings appearing on this site, such compensation may include travel and other costs.

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