If you’re like most of us, when you think of Facebook Messenger, only one thing springs to mind: chatting with friends and family.
Sure, it’s a great way of staying in touch with the people you care about – whether that’s by text, video calls, or just upping their jealousy levels with gorgeous beach picture – but these days, there’s a lot more to the app than that.
Many of Messenger’s features are aimed at travelers, and it’s well worth testing a few of them out on your next trip.
These are a few of the best.
Flights and Hotels
Did you know several big travel companies are using Facebook Messenger to communicate directly with their customers? Major travel brands like KLM and Hyatt have jumped on board, as well as booking agents like Kayak.
If you book a flight directly with KLM, you’ve got the option of receiving booking confirmations, flight updates, and boarding passes in Messenger, as well as chatting directly with customer service agents.
Start a chat session with Kayak, and a bot will take your requirements (“flights to New York tomorrow”, for instance), ask a few questions, then search across a range of sites to return the best results. It can also give vacation suggestions within a particular budget, and if you integrate your Facebook account with Kayak, send real-time updates on gate changes and flight delays.
Hyatt was one of the first large travel organisations to start using a Messenger bot, which answers questions and helps customers book rooms in its hotels around the world.
The bot makes the process easy, but if you get stuck (or would just prefer the human touch) you can still choose to talk to a real person in Messenger if you'd prefer.
Finding Your Friends
If you’ve ever traveled with a group, you’ll already know that the only thing harder than agreeing on where to go for dinner, is finding each other again after you’ve split up for a few hours.
Messenger’s “Live Location” feature lets you share your location in real-time with an individual or group, so they can see at a glance how far away you are, and how long it would take to drive there. The feature is available on both iOS and Android, and last for an hour by default. Live Location can be switched on or off with a single tap from any chat window.
Sitting alongside the ability to share a static location on a map, it means there’ll be no more frantic “where are you?” messages, or misunderstood directions. Handy!
Speaking of group travel, it’s not always easy to keep track of who has paid for what, or sharing combined expenses fairly among a group. Messenger helps there, too, making it straightforward for individuals to pay each other, or a group to split costs between everyone.
If they haven’t done so already, your travel companions can add their Visa or Mastercard debit cards into Facebook’s secure payments system in a minute or two. After that, simply tap the "+" symbol in a group chat window, then tap "Payments."
You can choose whether to request money from everyone in the group, or just certain individuals. Once that’s done, either ask for an amount per person, or split the total amongst everyone, specify what it’s for, and hit the Request button.
You can see at a glance who has paid and who’s still to cough up, making it easy to apply subtle – or not-so-subtle – pressure on the slowpokes.
Request a Ride
While buses, trains and rickety tuk-tuks are all part of the travel experience, sometimes you just want the ease and comfort of an air-conditioned car. If you’re in the US and would like to call a Lyft or Uber, you can do so without even leaving your Messenger chat.
Sure, it only saves a few seconds, but not having to interrupt your conversation is a small but welcome benefit. Simply tap the "+" symbol in any chat, then tap "Rides". Pick your favorite service, and follow the simple prompts.
Anyone else in the chat will see a notification that you’ve called a ride, and you’ll get driver information and progress in the same window. If you’ve never used Uber before, your first ride will be free – a nice bonus.