As head of a rival flight-search engine, Chang points to Google Flight Search’s lack of comprehensiveness regarding airlines, online travel agencies and fares, which means the product trails the offerings of competitors such as Fly.com, Kayak and Bing Travel, to name a few, at this early stage.
“I think it is surprising that six months after beta launch, Google’s flight search product is still lagging far behind other airfare search engines on the market,” Chang says. “And I don’t buy Google’s position of wanting to grow incrementally, so as to benefit the traveler.”
Chang expresses “bewilderment” at all the publicity Google Flight Search got when it launched what is — with the exception of some Orbitz advertisements — essentially a pared down form of international flight search.
Of course, Chang understands that whenever Google blinks, the world takes a look.
“It is clear, even with this new functionality [international flights with US departures], that Google is struggling to find a way to offer a truly competitive and robust tool,” Chang says. “Without major online travel agencies in their search results, they aren’t able to deliver accurate price comparisons. I therefore fail to see how the news of adding international flights to their search capability is really an achievement.”
Chang claims that Fly.com, which is owned by Travelzoo, is more beneficial to consumers than Google Flight Search and offers greater comprehensive in content because Fly.com partners with OTAs and consolidators, including Orbitz, Expedia, Hotwire, Priceline, Travelocity Vayama, Webjet, CheapoAir.com, BudgetAir.com and Airfare.com, for example.
“Google won’t make much headway until they get OTAs into their results in a comprehensive way,” Chang says.
He argues that Google is most disadvantaged when it comes to international flights.
For example, you can search Fly.com for a San Francisco-Tokyo flight May 8 to May 15 and find one-stop service from Vayama for $866.
A query on Google Flight Search for the same itinerary came up with $981 fare on a similar one-stop itinerary through United.com.
And, for several of the $981 flight options displayed on Google Flight Search couldn’t be booked — the Book buttons were grayed out and inoperable, indicating Google likely had no commercial relationship with the airline.
“To have an airline-only search engine is not advantageous to consumers,” Chang says.
Of course, Google definitely wants to include OTAs in Google Flight Search and, after resistance to the idea from some airlines, Google is believed to be busy trying to integrate OTAs into the flight search results.
Chang says consumers will quickly grow skeptical about the booking links in Google Flight Search if they are dependent on advertising.
“Consumers are always very skeptical when it is a pay to play situation,” Chang says, adding that Fly.com “always puts content in front of revenue.”
Chang, of course, has a vested interest in portraying Google Flight Search in a negative light and in singing the praises of Fly.com.
He acknowledges that Google Flight Search’s “results are very fast,” but argues that the playing field is not level.
Fly.com, of course, can’t compete with Google’s computing resources, but Chang contends that as a customer of ITA Software’s QPX solution, Fly.com is slowed because it is barred from caching pricing while “Google probably does.”
In addition, Google currently doesn’t have to query OTAs for fares while Fly.com does, another contributing factor in the speed disparity, Chang believes.
Meanwhile, Google is using the latest QPX iterations, while ITA’s customers may not get access to them, Chang says, referring to Google’s built-in competitive advantages.
Kayak, too, is another travel metasearch engine and ITA customer concerned about the lack of a level playing field.
Robert Birge, Kayak’s chief marketing officer, believes Kayak has “the best flight search technology on the market” and can compete with Google.
“We believe users will find that the quality of our search results in terms of accuracy and best price found speak for themselves,” Birge says.
“Google has stated that their primary concern is the user and answering the user’s question,” Birge says. “However, they’ve also admitted that their flight search product has many inadequacies. Â Why would they show a product, they themselves admit is inferior, as the first result to a user who trusts them to show them the best result?”
Despite the criticism, Google isn’t backing off its deliberate pace on Google Flight Search.
“Since sharing our first look at this feature in September, the response has been overwhelmingly positive, and weâ€™re continuing to focus on developing and delivering the best possible experience for all our users,” a Google spokesperson says.
And, the search engine giant knows that speed wins, whether it is in travel or Gmail.
“Speed is critical to all the things we love on the Web: live-streaming video, real-time news, updates from across the world, and so on,” the Google spokesperson says. “Travel planning should be no exception. Â Google has invested heavily, not only in our own products, but also in technologies to speed up the web from the servers that host websites, to the wires that carry data into your home, to the browser installed on your computer.”
The spokesperson declined to provide specifics on the particular advertising models being deployed in Google Flight Search, adding: “Weâ€™re continuing to experiment with monetization.”
And, that experimentation could do much to determine how high Google Flight Search eventually flies.