I was only with my travel agent a few minutes before getting a detailed itinerary for an upcoming trip to New York. The program not only included suggested activities for a mid-September weekend, such as a stroll through Central Park and a visit to the Empire State Building, but also factored in weather for flights from Nashville, Tennessee, where I live.
“Can you help me book these flights?” ” I asked.
“I’m sorry, but as an AI language model, I don’t have the ability to book flights for you,” said ChatGPT, a openai artificial intelligence computer programreplied.
I was using the term “travel agent” loosely.
What is ChatGPT? :Everything You Need to Know About OpenAI’s Free AI Essay Writer and How It Works
Learn more: Best travel insurance
ChatGPT tackles real estate:Agents say AI could be a game-changer in the industry
This was the first of several roadblocks I encountered when experimenting to see if I could use ChatGPT as a travel agent for a notional vacation, versus a human counterpart. Here is what I learned:
ChatGPT’s trip planning capabilities are limited, for now
I started by asking ChatGPT when was the best time to visit New York. I used to live there, so I could make that call myself, but I wanted to test his recommendations against my own memories of subway rides in the summer and snowy walks in the winter.
The program dutifully touched on a handful of seasonal factors to consider, including weather, crowds and activities. Based on that, I leaned toward spring or fall, when ChatGPT said there would be “mild temperatures, colorful foliage, and lots of outdoor activities.”
I picked a free weekend from September 15-17 – just before the official start of fall – and asked if the program: “Can you help me plan a trip from Nashville to New York September 15-17?
The itinerary he generated was comprehensive and varied – with a recommendation to “see a Broadway show” and a walk over the Brooklyn Bridge – but his failure to help me book the flights to get there was frustrating.
However, the program allowed me to book them myself by providing suggestions for third-party booking sites.
Open AI said last month it would roll out access to various plug-ins to “investigate their use, impact, and real-world security and alignment issues,” including from third-party booking sites Expedia and Kayak.
Expedia Group tweeted a video which shows a user searching for flights via ChatGPT and the plugin, which provides options before sharing a link to book on Expedia, among other features, eg.
“While we will initially prioritize a small number of ChatGPT Plus developers and users, we plan to roll out larger scale access over time,” OpenAI said in a blog post (I was using the free version of the program).
When I asked which airline I should choose, ChatGPT listed airlines that fly nonstop between Nashville and New York.
In what felt like some sort of consolation, ChatGPT also gave advice. “When choosing an airline, you may want to consider factors such as ticket price, departure and arrival times, airline rewards programs and any additional fees or charges” , indicates the program. “You can also read the reviews of other travelers to get an idea of their experiences with each airline.”
I had the same problem when trying to book a hotel through the program, although ChatGPT also recommended several hotels, which it says are “well-located and good value for money”, and sites to book them.
A travel agent had more resources than ChatGPT
Just as I do after scrolling through an automated customer service phone menu, after viewing ChatGPT, I wondered what a real person would have to say.
I sent my travel dates to Geoffrey Millstone, owner of Clarksburg Travel Service, with a few parameters: I requested a nice but reasonable hotel in a convenient location and asked for suggestions for activities during my weekend in the Grosse Apple.
He sent me an itinerary with specific flights, a room at the Hyatt Grand Central New York hotel – he chose it because it offered a good deal that met my criteria – and pricing information, for a total of just over $1,240.
Should I book my summer trip now? :Travel experts share how to find the best deals
“Not much hope for economy class passengers”:Airline passengers prepare for the big summer pressure
He chose an early flight and a late flight to “maximize” my time there, and non-stop service to avoid disruption.
“If the price is close and I have a nonstop flight, versus changing planes with the current flight situation, I always choose the nonstop flight,” Millstone said.
Many of Millstone’s recommendations were also rooted in personal experiences, like picking up a corned beef or pastrami sandwich at a local grocery store in Manhattan — he’s half and half when he goes there.
His other suggestions included a hop-on hop-off bus tour, which he and his wife used, and a horse-drawn carriage ride through Central Park. The conversation flowed more naturally than with the AI program (believe it or not), and he offered a streamlined way to make reservations and imparted an array of first-hand knowledge about New York that ChatGPT could not have had.
Can I use ChatGPT as a travel agent?
If I had simply been looking for advice on what to do and suggested ways to do it, ChatGPT served me well as a sort of consultant while I considered my options. But based on my experience with the current iteration of the free program, a live advisor can provide a more comprehensive experience with a travel agent who will not only make recommendations but also book my trip.
Nathan Diller is a mainstream travel reporter for USA TODAY based in Nashville. You can reach him at email@example.com.