Mark this down on your calendars: Fly.com now says its new Custom Fare Calendar is a travel industry first because it sources real-time fare data while competitors' fare calendars rely on user searches.
"The tech back story is that we make a live call to ITA Software to get real-time fare data," says Warren Chang, general manager of Travelzoo's Fly.com metasearch offering. "Fare calendars from other sites typically use user search data only, resulting in calendars that are only available for certain routes and date combinations, and fares found by users days ago may have expired."
"The Custom Fare Calendars on Fly.com tackle all of these issues for our users," Chang says.
Fare calendars on airline, online travel agency and metasearch sites enable users with flexible travel options to see how their fares would change based on changing their departure and return dates.
In the above Fly.com calendar, the user sees it costs $236 to depart Houston for Chicago on June 13, but $246 a day before or after.
Actually, fares change all the time and when I accessed the Fly.com fare calendar a couple of hours after initially trying it, there was an update stating: "Great news. We may have found you an even lower fare."
Clicking on June 13 retrieved a higher fare, $244 from JetBlue via Orbitz, but indeed the calendar also showed a lower fare than it had displayed earlier. It was a $194 fare, departing June 15, on Delta.com.
Fare calendars from Kayak, TripAdvisor flights and Expedia, for example, rely on users' searches on their sites and, in Chang's view, don't necessarily provide up-to-date fare data.
In fact, Kayak touts its fare calendar like this: "Best fares found in the past 48 hours."
Regarding competitors' calendars, "most of their data can be old (since it is up to 48 hours old)," Chang says.
"With FareCompare, you have to choose a fixed length of stay and Kayak calendars aren't clickable so you can't quickly select nearby dates to see what is the best depart/return date combo," Chang says.
Chang says Fly.com's fare calendar is not contingent on a fixed length of stay, or number of travel days.
ITA Software-powered Google Flight Search has a fare calendar, which presumably uses real-time or perhaps cached fare data. You can mouse over the days on the calendar or accompanying bar chart to view how fares change based on the date.
"ITA calendars only show fare information," Chang says, adding they rely on a flexed length of stay. "There is no way to follow through and see which airfare providers you can buy the fare from."
At least one competitor scoffed that Fly.com had to use ITA Software to update its fare calendars because Fly.com's relative lack of query volumes would mean user search data wouldn't have been up to the task.
Says Chang: "We definitely don't need to ping ITA for real-time data. It's an extra expense but we're doing it for our users to be able to provide them with the complete calendars that also have the latest information for any route."
Fly.com claims that users in beta testing found fare savings on 74% of routes searched using its fare calendar, and that the cost savings averaged 19%.