I’ve just completed the initial release of my second Gnome Do plugin. It’s called TravelAgent. TravelAgent allows you to kick off searches for flights, rental cars, and hotel rooms on select travel agency websites right from Do. To use TravelAgent, you tell Do what you want to search for (flights, cars, or hotels), provide Do a simple search query string (see the plugin’s wiki page for details), and specify which of the supported travel agencies you’d like to use to conduct the search. Do will then open up a web browser, bringing you to the search results page on the travel agency’s website.
Let me just state this right from the start. I have no idea who will use this plugin, or who, if anybody, will find it useful. This is just something I wanted to do. If others find it useful, then that’s great. But, that was not my main motivation. Searching for travel can be complicated, as there are many options to consider. Take flights for example. The number of passengers you’re looking to book a flight for, and the “types” of those passengers (adults, children, seniors, etc) can vary from search to search. The departure time, arrival time, and flight time is often very important to people. Some people only fly certain airlines or certain cabin classes (coach, first class, etc). Trying to sum all of this up into a Do plugin is difficult. Do’s interface is simple…it needs to be. That’s one of the reasons why Do rocks so much. So, using the plugin had to be just as simple. To do that, many assumptions were made about the search being conducted, greatly reducing the flexibility of the search as compared to doing the search right on the travel agency’s website.
So, what is it useful for then? Well, it’s a quick an easy way to do a price check. And if you’re interested in purchasing some travel, then you can always tweak the search right from the search results page, to get it just the way you want it, before continuing down the purchase path.
As for the list of agencies supported, they are all Orbitz Worldwide agencies. All of the agencies are also running our global travel platform, which means I can interact with all of them the same way. The plugin currently works by building a URL, which contains all of the necessary search criteria, and feeding that URL to the web browser. It was the simplest way to get up and running. So, where is Orbitz you ask? Well, Orbitz is still running the classic platform. It does not have pretty URLs, or any other type of publicly available web services that I could use to conduct a search. I could write a screen scraper to get the job done, but that was beyond the scope of this initial 0.1 release. Cheaptickets suffers from the same issue. Soon, we will be rolling some of the other Ebookers agencies onto the new platform. When those sites go on, I will add support for them in the plugin. Orbitz and Cheaptickets are still a ways out, so I may look into scraping those sites for the time being.
So, what’s next for the plugin? Here’s a short list of stuff I’d like to do:
- Add support for additional OWW agencies
- Add support for searching packages (flight + car rental, flight + hotel, flight + car rental + hotel)
- Change the plugin to display the search results in Do, instead of on the agency’s search results page (but still giving the user the option to see the full search results page)
- Add support for pre-configured search options, like cabin class, preferred airline, etc. This would give the user more control over the search, while keeping the search query string simple.
I’m sure more features will come up as time goes on. We’ll see where this heads. If you have any ideas for what you’d like this plugin to be able to do, I’m all ears.