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Tuesday, February 27, 2024
Feb. 27, 2024

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ChatGPT vacation planning falls short

Travel websites prove more reliable than bot

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Who doesn’t love a good deal?

Coupons, discounts and all the perks, I’m onboard.

So when my editor mentioned an article in The Street about finding the best deals on airfare by using the viral bot created by Open AI, ChatGPT, I had to try. I’m going with a group of five friends to Europe for the first time, and have been dealing with skyrocketing fares for summer international travel. I wanted to be as cost-efficient as possible about booking the trip. Fort Worth-based American Airlines is cracking down on automated reshopping technology, and other carriers could follow, so I was willing to try something new.

Here’s what I found.

An upcoming trip with five friends to Europe provided the perfect opportunity to test the vacation-planning power of the software being used to write college essays, write job descriptions and order burgers.

I used the ChatGPT software on openai.com in its free research preview on May 5. ChatGPT is a specific kind of artificial intelligence called a “large language model,” according to Xinya Du, an assistant computer science professor at University Texas at Dallas.

While AI developers caution that programs such as ChatGPT are solely “language models,” others are using it and other similar programs such as Google Bard for business and consumer purposes.

With that in mind, I wanted to test its capabilities.

I asked: “Can you show me budget-friendly options for a flight from Dallas to London on June 27 to July 4?”

It answered with a nonstop flight from Dallas to London-Gatwick for $602 as No.1. There were four other options on Icelandair, Air France, KLM and United Airlines, all under $1,000. It also disclosed that airfare was subject to change at any time and that I should compare prices before booking.

A quick fact-check turned up some holes in the AI’s capabilities.

First off, Norwegian Air doesn’t fly out of the U.S. The airline scrapped all of its flights out of the U.S. in 2021 when it was undergoing financial troubles. For Icelandair, Air France, KLM and United Airlines, none of those flight prices existed.

So then I got more specific with it and asked: “Can you plan a trip departing from DFW to London on June 27? And returning from Paris to DFW on July 4? And can you make it under $1,000?”

ChatGPT returned with a trip departing on Norwegian Air for $457 to London, and returning from Paris on July 4 for $421, making the total cost $878. It gave its disclosures of changing airfares, again.

But I knew something was up. The bot wasn’t pulling data correctly from airline websites. So I asked to exclude Norwegian, since the carrier doesn’t fly in the U.S. and here’s the response I got:

“You are correct, I apologize for the mistake in my previous response. Norwegian Air has suspended its long-haul operations, including flights between the US and Europe, due to financial difficulties.”

It then proposed an Air France flight there and a Delta Air Lines flight back, but both flights didn’t exist when I tried to pull them up on the carriers’ respective websites. At this point, I was over the ChatGPT craze.

I told the bot I wasn’t able to find either of the prices it listed, so it gave me another option. Another one that didn’t check out when I went to the carrier’s website.

I gave it another shot for something other than airfare. How about one of those double-decker tour buses in London?

It told me it didn’t have access to real-time information on deals or bookings. But it suggested checking Viator,Big Bus Tours and London Bus Tours, all of which had websites that I could see prices on. It checked out.

It was an experiment that demonstrated the shortcomings of language-based AI. I was, after all, using a free version of ChatGPT. I know that there are some versions out there that claim to be more up to date.

I ended up using two of my trusty travel sites, Kayak and Hopper, to watch flights and get the most bang for my buck.

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