Google adds new features to help with your travel plans in the COVID era

Aug 16, 2020

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We all know travel planning right now looks much different from just months ago. And platforms like Google Travel are catching up with the times.

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U.S. travel restrictions vary from state to state, with the number of COVID-19 cases fluctuating on a regular basis. That means the biggest consideration in vacationing is likely where exactly to go — and how to sort through all the destination and travel policies.

Related: Use this Google Maps trick to save money on international trips

Google Travel is releasing several new tools to its search functionality to make the pandemic travel process easier. By pulling together coronavirus data and information on flights and hotels, the search giant wants to position itself as a one-stop destination for travel planning in this new era.

In the coming weeks, Google will roll out features such as local coronavirus case counts, the percentage of flights that are in operation and hotel availability numbers while searching for travel. These are all “travel trends” and will join the existing alerts that Google already offers on its platform.

Related: A guide to the best features of Google Flights 

Google Travel is also adding a new “free cancellation” filter to sort for accommodations that offer free refunds. Most of the major hotel chains are offering flexible policies, and Google looks to streamline all of that information.

“The No. 1 question we are getting is: Can we travel safely at all? And we’ve tried to address that by including advisory updates in travel searches,” Richard Holden, vice president of product management for Google Travel told Bloomberg.

Related: The 7 best starter travel credit cards

Several of the features were available to me when I did a sample search for hotels in Springdale, Utah (the gateway city to Zion National Park).

(Screen cap courtesy of Google)
(Screen cap courtesy of Google)

This search told me that 79% of rooms were available and I could filter and toggle by COVID-19 responder rooms and hotels that had a free cancellation policy.

While the latter two search functions can be helpful, I don’t find much use out of the available hotel rooms since it’s on a macro destination level. What I would love to see is how much occupancy is available on an individual hotel basis, but that is a feature that may require complexities with hotels’ reservation systems.

All-in-all, these tools are modest, yet constructive ways to paint a fuller picture of what travel may look like in a given city. And as travelers, we could use any help we can get during this confusing time to get away.

Featured photo by Meghan Hunter/The Points Guy

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