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Google launches Flight Search with booking links to airline sites only

September 13, 2011

In a stunning move, Google and ITA Software unveiled their long-awaited Flight Search product — with booking links to airline websites only.

At this juncture, at least, it seems to be a worst-case scenario for online travel agencies such as Expedia and Priceline and travel metasearch engines such as Kayak and Bing Travel, which were concerned or fought Google’s acquisition of ITA Software five months ago.

And, Google Flight Search appears to be a clear win – even more dramatic than anticipated — for airlines over their frenemies in the OTA and metasearch sector as they vie for site traffic and bookings.

Of course, it all depends on how the airline-Google economics work out, and for now Google isn’t providing any details on that.

In a blog post today about the launch of Flight Search, Google states: “… Our booking links point to airline websites only. We’re working to create additional opportunities for our other partners in the travel industry to participate as well.”

Google’s official take on the issue is this:

Like any other partner, Google needs to honor the airlines’ distribution decisions. It has long been known in the industry that the control of pricing data and distribution of the same by airlines is tightly held. That means that we can only show airlines in the booking links.

Google Flight Search is available on Google.com from anywhere in the world.

You can access Google Flight Search in two ways: from a Flights link in the left-hand panel after doing a flight search in the Google search box or by navigating directly to Google.com/flights.

If you enter “flights from San Francisco to Orlando” in the Google search box, another feature, flight schedules, available since late May, appears below in the search results, but a new Flights link appears in the left-hand panel.

For now, Google Flight Search only shows roundtrip fares from major airlines to a limited number of U.S. cities, and will eventually be expanded to include international markets for flights. Google is in the process of rolling out Flight Search today.

There are numerous ways to filter the flight results: by number of stops, flight duration, airlines, airline alliances, connections, outbound times, return times, dates, and price etc.

You can search by date using a calendar underneath the map or select the scatter plot beneath the calendar to filter by price and/or duration.

For consumers looking for a little travel inspiration and a bargain, you can also use the map and filters to see where you can fly from New York, without specifying a destination, within four hours for less than $350, for example.

Google says flight search results are “not influenced by any paid relationships.”

In other words, Flight Search contrasts sharply with Google Hotel Finder, where hotel results are driven by advertising relationships.

Google has constructed a very simple user experience, which is designed to be very fast, with flight options “chosen primarily based on cost and total travel time, while covering a variety of departure times and airlines,” Google says.

So, in the above example, the $484 American Airlines flight from San Francisco to Orlando via Dallas appears higher in the results than the cheaper $482 Continental Airlines flight via Houston, presumably because of the duration-filter setting and the shorter duration on the American Airlines flight.

And, this is what the Google Flight Search booking link page looks like for a San Francisco to Salt Lake City United Airlines flight, operated by United Express/Skywest Airlines.

Note, that the Book button appears within the search results. When you select Book, Google Flight Search provides a “deep link” to the airline website, says Cara Kretz, an ITA Software spokesperson.

In its blog post, Google characterizes the initial version of Flight Search as “an early look,” adding that it “combines ITA expertise with Google’s technology…”

That comment may have meaning for critics of Google’s acquisition of ITA Software, who sometimes argued that Google could have just as well licensed ITA’s QPX fares, schedules and availability solution instead of buying it and the whole company.

“We can do things really fast with a lot of computers,” says Kretz of ITA. “This was one of the things that was so appealing. Google can do things really fast and handle lots of volume.”

Kretz says Google intends to introduce new features, such as one-way fares and multi-city itineraries, and she adds that the launch today was merely a “first step.”

Google is talking to airlines about adding them as participants — today Flight Search merely shows some major U.S. carriers – and plans to add international markets, of course, although no timetable has been publicized.

Kretz says ITA Software is not currently offering this particular Flight Search technology to its current QPX customers.

“We’re evaluating all opportunities,” Kretz says.

Google’s first iteration of Flight Search may give pause to some major online travel agencies and others which said they were concerned about the ITA acquisition, but were open to the possibility that Flight Search would merely provide them with better customer leads.

Google Flight Search, which was feared by some and speculated about for years, has at long last arrived in its initial and evolving form.

Non-airline advertisers will undoubtedly secure some real estate in Google Flight Search, but for now at least, the airlines clearly have the upper hand.

Robert Birge, chief marketing officer of ITA customer Kayak, expressed confidence in the company’s ability to compete, adding “…We believe our flight search technology is superior.”

Says Birge:

We recognize Google is a formidable competitor but they haven’t been successful in every vertical they entered. We use multiple data sources and proprietary technology, all of which helps us in our efforts to provide people with comprehensive, fast and accurate answers to their flight search needs.

Source: www.tnooz.com

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