farecast-old
The old Farecast service. Courtesy of the Wayback Machine.

One of the most popular features of the old Farecast travel search engine has taken its last voyage.

MIcrosoft, which paid $115 million for the Seattle-based company six years ago this month, has turned off the price prediction tool that informed travelers of the likelihood that airfare prices would rise or decline.

When Farecast’s price prediction technology launched in 2004, it grabbed headlines since it was one of the first and most understandable consumer Internet applications of “big data,” a term that was not really in use. At the time, Farecast founder and former University of Washington computer science professor Oren Etzioni dismissed critics when he said that “computers are comfortable sifting through large volumes of numbers to find patterns.”

Those patterns were used to tell travelers whether a future flight between Boston and Seattle or thousands of other combinations was about to increase or decrease in price.

Reached this morning, Etzioni said he was sad to learn that the price prediction tool was being turned off, calling it one of the “most distinctive features of Bing.”

Etzioni, who now leads Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s Artificial Intelligence Institute, said that many travel technology and business experts left Bing’s team. In addition, he said that Bing was “outflanked” by Google when the search giant purchased ITA Software. While Microsoft and others attempted to block that sale, Etzioni said that “Bing didn’t want to pay Google for the data required to power Farecast.”

Oren Etzioni
Oren Etzioni

“So, we end up with Bing travel as a thin veneer that redirects users to Kayak, while Google innovates with Google.com/flights, which I now use all the time,” said Etzioni. “Google 1, Bing 0.”

In fact, Kayak introduced a similar price prediction tool for its travel search engine last year.

This isn’t the first time that Etzioni has voiced displeasure with Bing’s progress, noting at an event in Seattle last year that he was disappointed with how little has come out of the search engine in recent years.

Here’s the statement Microsoft provided to GeekWire on the rationale behind the end of the price prediction service.

“Bing is no longer offering Price Predictor, but remains committed to delivering a comprehensive travel experience that gives people great travel information including flight and hotel search functionality. In addition to Bing.com/travel, travelers can find relevant travel information in new and visually compelling ways through the Bing Travel app and Bing Smart Search for Windows 8.1 and Bing Maps.

As to why price predictor was turned off — It was a business decision to focus resources on areas where we feel there are the greatest opportunities to serve travel needs.”

(Hat tip to Tnooz)

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Comments

  • Allen

    How is google flights innovative? Just because it uses a map if you want to browse current fares? Feel like a re-packaged priceline to me.

  • Briana S

    this was literally the only reason I used Bing.

    • Damon Kiley

      Ditto.

  • firewallender
  • nico75

    Of course if shutting down Farecast was perceived as affecting the lives of some minority they would have never done that! LOL

    So long Bing, I am NOT going to miss you!

  • Microsoft PR

    “Bing is no longer offering Price Predictor, but remains committed to BLAH BLAH BLAH BULLSHIT…”

    “As to why price predictor was turned off — It was a…. POLITICAL decision to focus resources on an opportunity for one VP to really screw over another one.”

  • Matthew Reynolds

    This is truly disappointing. I attended Oren Etzioni’s talk at the UW business school on founding Farecast, and it was an innovative use of machine learning to solve a pressing commercial problem. He also showed true guts to overcome technical issues which nearly sank the company early in the game. I’d work for him in a New York minute.

  • lgrosso

    so … Etzioni, can you reincarnate the functionality somewhere else?

  • whocares

    I dont understand how Microsoft can keep making such horrible, stupid blunders to ruin its public image.

    • Len

      Blunder? Never underestimate others.

  • Stosh

    Nine months after Bing killed this tool, graphical information about airfare history and trends is getting harder and harder to find on the Internet. Even Kayak offers much less detail now than they once did. I am absolutely sure that there is a demand for such information, and that people would click on a site that offers it (whether or not they actually saved money using it). Also I see no technical reason why such data could not be collected and stored. Also, any faults in the prediction algorithms could likely be improved upon in time. So it seems odd and totally against the grain of digital technological progress that this happening.

  • Josh McNattin

    You know what happens when I don’t find a fare that’s low enough in my mind? I don’t travel at all, I skip leaving town for vacations, how is that good for the industry.

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