July 06, 2018

Talking up travel industry ‘chatbots’


After a few false starts, these automated programs that answer basic questions, find deals or secure refunds are slowly coming into their own. And they might be worth trying.

A bot is an application that performs an automated task. Outside of travel, bots can do things like tell you the weather or conduct an online search. Most of the bots I’m discussing here are referred to as chatbots — programs you interact with through chat. You send it a message. It responds automatically, sending you information, making a query on your behalf or booking a ticket.

Airlines are using bots to deliver boarding passes and other itinerary information to their customers. The latest innovations automatically check your airline ticket to see if your fare has dropped and then negotiate a refund. Online travel agencies are using them to help travelers find better deals on their itineraries.

The earliest travel bots were only marginally useful. They offered unsophisticated or unhelpful responses and rarely worked as promised. The watershed moment came two years ago, when Facebook opened its platform to developers.

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