It’s travel season for me coming up here soon. I always attend CES in Las Vegas (let me know if you want to chat in person), the SxSW conference in Austin, and a few extra trips here and there. Living up here in Minneapolis, it’s the perfect time to escape the inevitable cold and snow.
Recently, I’ve been looking into travel options and, as a way to practice what I preach, I’ve relied entirely on messaging apps like Mezi (which uses AI to find the best deals), talked to the Google Assistant on a Pixel smartphone I’m testing, and relied entirely on chat interfaces. It’s always interesting, as journalist, to separate what I’m testing in my job from making actual plans. When you have to hand over your credit card information and other personal details, your perspective changes.
As it turns out, I learned quite a bit about how messaging works better for travel arrangements mostly due to the time savings. It’s amazing. On Mezi, I typed in my dates and the departure and arrival cities. That’s it. The app is designed to make the process as fluid as possible, and it’s all about finding the best deal. The app I normally use to book my own trips (when I even use an app instead of a web site) is usually Expedia. Yet, I don’t plan on going back to travel apps, and here’s why.
First, let’s clear up one misconception. Making travel arrangements is not rocket science. There are a limited number of flights from Minneapolis to Las Vegas on the dates I’m flying. For some reason, I always think — if I spend an hour or more, I might find a better deal. That’s rarely true.
What is true is that most of the travel apps, even the ones that make big promises about saving you money, are searching the same basic airfare options. Sun Country offers roughly the same deal on every site, so a messaging app like Mezi already has a fairly limited number of options to analyze. From what I understand about how the app works, it searches for the best flights at the best times and provides three good options without too much help from a human agent.
What’s changed for me is that I trust the results. I know that these are likely the three best options, so I don’t psyche myself out searching for more economical flights. It helps that I already know the flight should run about $300 or less (this is a vacation destination after all) and shouldn’t make any stops.
Here are some of the ways this saves me time. I don’t have use multiple travels apps and try to remember my login for each one. I don’t have to fill out any forms — Mezi does that for me. I don’t have to pick any flight preferences, Mezi saves this and fills that in as well. There are a few more subtle benefits as well. I might need to update the Mezi app once in awhile, but not as often as most of the apps I use, which seem to be constantly needing an update. Most of what needs to be updated in a messaging app is on the backend, not within the simple text interface.
Maybe it’s all an illusion, but I swear I saved about an hour of time. I have two more flights to book at least, and I’d never use a travel app or site again. This is a much faster process, and the results are the same.
Of course, you may have noticed I have not trusted a travel chatbot that does not involve a human agent quite yet. For starters, I haven’t found any I like yet. More importantly, I like being able to confirm a few things with a human agent. I asked the agent to do the search once per day for a few days in a row. That way, it helped confirm to me that I wasn’t missing a good deal. I was also able to ask about other details, like whether a certain airline still offers nonstop flights. I want to be able to have a conversation, and no chatbot that is 100% automated does that yet.
For my next trip, I do plan to use a chatbot that uses all AI. If you know of a good one to try, let me know by email.
How travel chatbots work better than travel apps – VentureBeat