Yesterday Google launched Google Hotel Finder, a "search tool specifically designed to help you find that perfect hotel," explains Google software engineer Andrew McCarthy on Google's blog. This isn't exactly innovative on Google's part, plenty of hotel search sites exist--Expedia, Priceline, Orbitz, to name a few. And it's not like they're even the first search engine to integrate travel plans into their site. Bing has a travel section, where users can search for ideal lodging. What makes Google's new site different or better than what you're already using? We're here to help you figure that out, parsing the differences between Google Hotel Finder and your current site of choice.

First of all, here's what Google says makes Google Hotel Finder different than all other sites. On Hotel Finder you put in your desired location, dates, a price range, a hotel class rating, and a user rating. Google scours the interwebs for deals. Once you've chosen your rate, Hotel Finder shows you where you can purchase the deal and for how much, and then sends you off-site, either to the owner site or another hotel finding site to buy the room. So far, sounds like every other hotel finding site out there. However, Google highlights some unique features on its blog.

  • Hotel Finder "shines a tourist spotlite" on the most visited areas of U.S. cities, so you can stay in the hippest, most popular areas.
  • Under price it has a "compare to typical" section, where you can look at historical average prices, and see if the hotel is a good value.
  • It provides pretty pictures. "You no longer need to open a new browser tab for each hotel result, and then go hunting around for pictures. When you select a hotel in Hotel Finder, we show you a collage of images, Google Places reviews, and key information right within the list," explains McCarthy.
  • And as you peruse the site, you can "keep a shortlist," marking the deals you'd like to keep in mind for later.

This all sounds wonderful, but do other sites already have these fancy features? Let's compare.

Aggregating sites: Bing, Kayak, Hipmunk

Hotel Finder most resembles aggregating sites like Bing, Kayak, and Hipmunk because they pull their deals not only from hotel Web sites, but other hotel finder locations, like Expedia and Priceline. So what's the difference?

Google highlights its tourist spotlight, which highlights the popular tourist areas of any given city. On Bing you can narrow your options down by neighborhood, but if you don't know much about the city, you might not no where to head. Kayak features a map, which allows you to sort the findings by popularity, price, distance, or rating, but doesn't pick a hot spot for you. Like Google, however, Hipmunk has a similar feature, which actually gives more detailed information about neighborhoods. On Hipmunk, you can see a heat map of what areas have the most shopping, eats, tourism, bars, and vices.

Another feature Google highlights is its pricing, as it allows users to see if they're getting a deal. Bing's rate indicator serves a similar function, but only exists for 30 U.S. cities. It shows up as a color coded legend on the map. You can request price alerts from Kayak, but you would have to set those well in advance for when you want to book to get the best deal. You can search through Hipmunk's result for cheap, average or pricey hotels, but there's no way to tell if a hotel is having a deal or marking up room rates.

The service claims it shows you more pictures. And it does. Bing, Kayak, and Hipmunk have itty bitty photos of the hotels they offer.

Finally, Google lets you mark some of your favorites on a "shortlist" as you browse. None of the other sites let you do that. That said, you can open a new search in a tab in Hipmunk, which makes browsing easier.

Hotel deal sites: Expedia, Hotels.com, Priceline

Unlike Google Hotel Finder, these sites don't pull from other hotel deal sites, but only directly from the hotels. You purchase your hotel room directly from these sites.

While Google shows you the most hopping tourist area, Hotels.com and Priceline don't even have maps on their sites. Expedia features a map, but adds no additional information.

As for pricing, you can browse by price, but Expedia doesn't give much other information. It does however have an "Expedia Picks" section and featured hotel offers, which presumably show the best deals. Priceline relies on a model of bidding below published prices. You can specify neighborhoods and hotel class, but you don't know exactly where you are staying until after bidding on and booking the room. So it has a completely different pricing structure than Google Hotel Finder. Hotels.com has more transparency and will show you if the hotel is offering a "special rate," placing the original price next to the lower offering. It also has a box you can mark for deals, which will show hotels on sale.

Again, all these sites have very small images of the hotels. Google definitely wins on this front.

Also,  none of these sites has a way to create a "shortlist" as Google does.

Another reason hotel shoppers might choose Google, as GigaOm's Erica Ogg points out, is that the site looks better than most other search sites.  "Most travel search sites share pretty much the same layout: They’re overwhelmed with search boxes, radio dials, and drop-down menus galore, and of course, ads. Lots of them. In that way, Hotel Finder has a refreshing approach: It’s clean, uncluttered, and not a single ad can be found." If you value aesthetics, this might be the site for you.

So, there you have it. These are all the features Google has outlined, and we've evaluated, that might make you want to switch. Your favorite site might already have these features, or maybe it doesn't and you just don't care. Decide for yourself.