TechCrunch has reported that Google may soon be providing more detailed flight search results, including maps, prices and results based on searchers’ IP addresses as the starting point for destinations. This information will include links to airlines for people to buy their flights without going through an agent or flight aggregators like Expedia or Travelocity.
Right now Google has a general one box that gives duration of flight information from major cities if you type in flights to a particular destination along with airline links to companies covering those routes.
If you try searching for flights between two destinations they offer an approximate number of direct flights and the ability to extend the listing to virtually all flights for an average day – these too link direct to the airlines.
The Google facts page about its acquisition of ITA – initially started July 1, 2010 and approved by the Department of Justice a few months ago – makes the following claims:
“Google’s acquisition of ITA Software will create a new, easier way for users to find better flight information online, which should encourage more users to make their flight purchases online.
The acquisition will benefit passengers, airlines and online travel agencies by making it easier for users to comparison shop for flights and airfares and by driving more potential customers to airlines’ and online travel agencies’ websites. Google won’t be setting airfare prices and has no plans to sell airline tickets to consumers.
Because Google doesn’t currently compete against ITA Software, the deal will not change existing market shares. We are very excited about ITA Software’s QPX business, and we’re looking forward to working with current and future customers. Google will honor all existing agreements, and we’re also enthusiastic about adding new partners”.
The two statements “will not change existing market shares” and “will benefit passengers, airlines and online travel agencies” do not seem to take in to account the impact of Google returning results of their own above all the online fare comparison companies or online travel agencies.
If the links to the airlines are used – regardless of whether or not Google gets paid somehow – they will impact all other online alternatives that used to get those clicks.
Sure it will provide added information and nice map alternatives for people doing online research for trips, but with links direct to the airlines essentially Google is doing a Panda on the sites who’s business is to act as a middleman with pricing alternatives or possible stop-overs.
Many of these businesses do have the value add of discounted hotels when booked with flights, so people will still seek them out. But many airline sites are offering these services too nowadays given the difficulty they have turning a profit on straight airfares.
Apparently the DoJ stipulated, “Google is required to continue to license ITA’s airfare search software to airfare websites on ‘commercially reasonable’ terms and to continue to fund the development of ITA’s software at similar levels to what ITA has invested in recent years. Google is also mandated to further develop and offer ITA’s next generation InstaSearch product, which is currently in development, to travel websites, which will provide near instantaneous results to certain types of flexible airfare search queries,” TechCrunch reported.
And though Google is restricted from making agreements with the airlines to gain an upperhand on any booking information, it will not matter if their competitors have access to the same information if they lose the people they would share it with because everyone just goes to the Google travel search box.
As Leena Roa sayss in her TechCrunch article, “basically Google has to tread very carefully in the travel search space.” Other users of ITA have already started a lobby against them and will be quick to report any possible anti-trust actions.
The DoJ told Bloomberg “without the judicially monitored restrictions, Google’s control over this key asset would have substantially lessened competition among providers of comparative flight search websites in the United States, resulting in reduced choice and less innovation for consumers.
No doubt they will be learning more about how search engines work and the dominance of Google when this new engine launches.