If you remember, Google launched its U.S. Flight Search in September after a lengthy investigation into its acquisition of ITA Software. During that investigation, Google put out some information about its plans, including that “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.”
So we paid close attention for more details when Jeremy Wertheimer (ITA founder and now Google Vice President of Travel) made an appearance at the PhoCusWright Travel Conference this week with the official word on Google’s Flight Search plans.
As Charlie Leocha (Director of the Consumer Travel Alliance) wrote, Wertheimer, “announced that the search engine giant has decided to exclude online travel agencies such as Expedia, Priceline, Travelocity and metasearch sites like Kayak from their flight search results. A search on Google will only return airline results.” Apparently, in Wertheimer’s words, “the airlines don’t want the online travel agents included.”
And Dennis Schaal of Tnooz noted, “Wertheimer drew some criticism when he explained that ‘our airline partners were very clear’ that they wouldn’t participate in Google Flight Search if online travel agency booking links were included in the core flight-search results.”
One of the most vocal critics of this announcement is Orbitz Worldwide CEO Barney Harford, who “noted that his company provided testimony to the US Congress several months ago related to anticompetition concerns about Google’s role and search dominance.” (Orbitz was one of the voices Google featured on its acquisition website as not opposed to the deal.) Today however, Harford commented that “we are always concerned that someone in such a dominant position in core search takes that position of dominance and uses it to favor its own travel search results that exclude a major part of the market.”
It all boils down to higher prices and fewer choices for consumers.
As Leocha asked, “Why is Google openly restricting their searches to only airline sites? Why are they excluding, from the public, airfares that airlines have negotiated with various travel agents?”
In addition, the omission of online travel agents mean consumers won’t find low priced fares for tickets using one airline on an outbound and a different airline on the return.
This is a major development for travel search but could have major implications for every area where Google competes.
Leocha warns, “We now know that they only allow searches of sites with whom they have agreements.” As a result, “Google can no longer be a trusted search engine.”