Bing as travel agent? So long, Farecast.

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'Bing! You are now free to book travel online.'

That sounds like an ad for Southwest Airlines, but it's also what the folks at Microsoft hope you'll think of when it's time to make arrangements for Lollapalooza, Johnny's trip to summer camp, and Aunt Millie's second wedding this summer.

The new Bing Travel site, officially launched Thursday morning, takes the powerful functionality of travel-prediction tool Farecast and pairs it with stories and other content from MSN Travel (though probably best to stay away from "7 ways to annoy a flight attendant" – one of the featured pieces Thursday afternoon).

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The move is an effort by Microsoft to expand the functionality of its search engine by becoming a destination for prospective travelers. From the press release:

According to a recent survey by Bing Travel, 52 percent of potential travelers search three or more sites before booking their airfare. Forty-two percent of travelers spend between one and four weeks weighing their travel options, and 17 percent spend more than one month. Bing Travel aims to dramatically reduce the amount of time consumers spend searching for travel information by presenting comprehensive results in one place, and to help consumers make more informed decisions with tools such as Price Predictor and Rate Indicator.

Price Predictor and Rate Indicator will be familiar to Farecast users. Acquired by Microsoft in April 2008, Farecast analyzed historical route and room-rate data to provide users an educated guess as to whether fares are likely to rise or fall. As of Thursday, farecast.com redirects to bing.com/travel. Expect an increased advertising push for Bing the travel tool later this summer.

One tip for summer travelers: be aware that though European discount carrier Ryanair's fare may be the lowest, they really are serious about those pay-toilets.

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