6 years ago

Google Flight Search adds global routes and first online travel agency links

Six months after its initial beta launch, Google Flight Search has added dozens of global airlines and international flights to more than 500 airports.

Apart from the addition of dozens of new airlines to Google Flight Search, the launch of international flight search does not involve any new tech or global distribution system partnerships, by all accounts.

The only launch caveat, in what is still a product accessible to US users only, is that the international flights, including roundtrips, must have the initial leg originating from the US to show up.

For example, you see Los Angeles to Sydney roundtrips from Air Pacific, United, Virgin Australia, Delta, Qantas and American and United via San Francisco as long as they originate in the US.

Thus, you won’t see Sydney-Los Angeles roundtrips for now.

Google revealed some of the changes in its Inside Search blog and ITA Software blog today.

“A quick click over each city on the map will show the different options available to you almost instantly — and click the chart next to the dates to show alternative dates so you can make the best choice for your trip,” writes Eric Zimmerman, Google product manager, in the blog post.

And, in another tweak, which wasn’t discussed in the blog post, booking links from Orbitz, which became ITA Software’s first customer in 2001, now appear in some North American search results, breaking the airline-only hold on those precious links.

An Orbitz spokesperson says of the program: “We are always exploring new channel and promotional opportunities and looking at how we might collaborate with Google Flight is among those options.”

The deep links to Orbitz, as with airline booking links, are advertisements. For example, here are Orbitz and Alaska Airlines ads on a New York to Vancouver, Canada, search.

The Orbitz ad program in Google Flight Search is a pilot program and Google has the intention of bringing in additional online travel agencies as advertisers with booking links in core search results.

Thus, the business model and Google’s issues with some airlines are coming into clear focus.

A Google spokesperson says of the pilot advertising program:

As of today, on certain itineraries, we’ll show links to Orbitz as part of the Ads under the “Book” button. Those links will take the user directly to a landing page on Orbitz where they can complete the booking. The Orbitz ad may appear alone or alongside a carrier link depending on whether or not a carrier has enabled deep links with us.

You will see them initially on some U.S.-North American routes, but we’re aiming to put OTA links on as many routes as possible to provide users with a comprehensive view of their booking options.

But, even if the online travel agency component of Google Flight Search expands, you likely won’t be seeing OTA ads alongside or below some airline’s advertisements. The Google spokesperson adds:

As we’ve said since launch, we absolutely want to include booking links for online travel agencies in Flight Search in addition to the links we show to airline sites. Many of the airlines with which we currently have booking links have not allowed us to include booking links on their flights to other travel sites.

Some airlines, such as American Airlines and Delta Airlines, refuse to participate in flight metasearch unless booking links to their sites appear alone without OTAs in the mix.

Thus, the comprehensiveness of Google Flight Search when it comes to enabling bookings on airline and online travel agency sites will be challenged based on Google’s insistence on sticking with an advertising model. Google doesn’t show booking links unless airlines are advertising and Google Flight Search isn’t displaying advertisements from Orbitz unless the particular airline gives its OK.

Google, which obviously seeks comprehensive and advertising revenue, is urging its airline partners to play nice with the OTAs.

“Like any other travel-search site, we need to respect each airline’s distribution decisions,” the Google spokesperson says. “However, we strongly encourage our airline partners to allow OTAs to participate in initiatives like Flight Search.”

When an airline or Orbitz is running booking link advertisements in Google Flight Search, the Book button is red.

When airlines have not given Google permission to deep link to their sites and are not participating advertisers, then the Book button is grayed out. In the following screenshot, showing a United Airlines and ANA roundtrip New York to Tokyo, you can see that Google Flight Search has no booking option as the Book button is disabled.

So why has Google chosen to include international flights, but only those originating from the US?

Why produce a limited product when international flights have been so greatly anticipated?

And, what about the inevitable blasts from critics that Google Flight Search is a failure because so many international flights are still missing?

Google’s thinking is that it wants to develop Google Flight Search incrementally and in a way that is beneficial to travelers.

And, you might consider what Google and ITA have done so far with GFS as an early look at an evolving product.

After all, what in tech doesn’t evolve?

So today’s rollout of flights is relatively comprehensive regarding routes from the US to popular destinations around the world.

Along similar lines, ITA Software’s QPX service has featured international flight search since at least 2003.

But, Google didn’t want to introduce routes from global destinations when it doesn’t yet have access to the full roster of options.

For example, while Google Flight Search certainly could have introduced flights from Paris, it didn’t want to do so if it only included a subset of flights from and to certain airports there.

There can be no doubt that Google is working on globalizing access to Google Flights Search and a producing a fully international product, which might require new tech partners.

Regarding the dozens of new airlines included in flight search results, it is believed that Google Flight Search doesn’t necessarily have partnerships or commercial relationships with many, but is working on establishing them.


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Dennis Schaal

About the Writer :: Dennis Schaal

Dennis Schaal was North American editor for Tnooz.



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  1. Camron Maurice

    I have thoroughly looked at the google flights, they are very user friendly, but my concert as a travel agent is that google flights are only for large travel companies, and small/local agents who are already suffering from airlines direct selling on their websites, its a big blow to them, if all the business are controlled by large organizations then where are the surviving options for the common people?

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  4. Tanguy F

    Do not forget that airlines’ inventories are very very difficult to copy. Google will only succeed if most airlines volontarily develop systems to provide their prices. Google can succeed but not without airlines.

  5. Dennis Schaal

    Dennis Schaal

    Jonathan: I think the New York Knicks are going to lose tonight. That’s my only prognostication:)

  6. Jonathan Meiri

    @Dennis I think the google service is very solid, and will most likely improve with time.

    Can I get you to guess what will be their market share within 1 year? Per recent @tnooz article it is currently at 1%

  7. Murray Harrold

    Hate to mention this but the actual cost is $1578 if you follow it through onto UA website as you can’t book it on Google, anyway.

    Actually, as an agent, I would have suggested out via SEA on the 0800 and then back on the direct service 1730/ arr 1133 and charged you 1116.10 USD. …. on a first glance.

    But, if you wish to faff about chaning flights I suppose you are more than welcome. As agents we tend to work on best value, rather than pure price. As we agents say: if you are really rich, you can afford to book online.

    Oh! And you don’t need to muck about on any websites comparing this and that, going back, re-checking wondering who may be best and then finding out that the one you first had that looked good has, in the meantime, gone. All you need to do is ring up and say “Get me to NRT on the 14th, back on the 29th” and put the phone down (assuming you are already a client) … and then get back on with the job which your company pays you to do ….

  8. David Friderici

    Looks like they use Orbitz for those airlines, where they could not implement the deep linking into the IBE’s website on a short notice. Strangely it is just Cape Air (running on Google ITA’s PSS) that can be booked only through Orbitz.

  9. Dennis Schaal

    Dennis Schaal

    Dan: Yes, I updated the article five or 10 minutes ago. Keep the faith:)

  10. Dan G.

    did you update the article or am I stupid? ;+)

  11. Dan G.

    Hi – have you got a screen grab of Orbitz in the search results?

  12. Concerned Traveler

    > So I tried a search, Los Angeles – Tokyo round trip, June 14th – June29th, with Dohop’s residency setting on US. We beat Google by about $700. ($1720 vs our $1048). That is the first search I tried, and I honestly don’t feel like trying more.

    Interesting, except I just tried this and your site is reporting a low price of $1458, while GFS shows $1131. Better rethink that statement.

    • Johann Thorsson (for Dohop.com)

      The residency setting on Dohop may default to a country other than the US (depending on where you are).

      But I see now that I DID make a mistake. I had Google on San Francisco, not LA. True prices are $1108 (Google) $1048 (Dohop)

      We are still cheaper, but the difference is, admittedly, not nearly as dramatic.

      • smoother_landing

        > But I see now that I DID make a mistake. I had Google on San Francisco, not LA. True prices are $1108 (Google) $1048 (Dohop)
        >We are still cheaper, but the difference is, admittedly, not nearly as dramatic.

        umm, your itinerary is not bookable. if you search your all Korean air itinerary on the korean air website, the price returned is $1,717.59. The google returned result seems to be replicable on the delta.com website.

        So you returned a lower price, that isnt available. I would say the difference is dramatic.

        • Johann Thorsson (for Dohop.com)

          I am willing to admit if any mistakes are made, and it seems this is one of those times.

          We report $1048 and direct users to an OTA called Flights24 to book. Real price on their site? $1,000.59 So I was off by $46, but in a good way.

          I still think your residency setting may be wrong on Dohop (top left corner). We only present bookable prices to users (Swedes see different results than, say, Americans).

  13. Johann Thorsson (for Dohop.com)

    This is worrying for us “smaller players”. Google has stadium-loads of cash to throw at this, and plnety of computing power.

    So I tried a search, Los Angeles – Tokyo round trip, June 14th – June29th, with Dohop’s residency setting on US. We beat Google by about $700. ($1720 vs our $1048). That is the first search I tried, and I honestly don’t feel like trying more.

    I have a tagline to sell them:

    “Google flights – really quickly showing you flights you can find cheaper elsewhere.”

    • David Friderici

      Hi Johann,

      are you sure? When I do that search it’s almost the same price on both your site and their site. 1048 USD on KE on your site versus 1131 on UA on Google’s site. Your cheapest UA flight is the same. So, do not see that much difference.
      However, what I think is right is that the entire engine seems to be nothing else than a gigomanic cache and to build this is actually not really rocket science.
      By the way the assumption that it is a cache seems to be verified when having a look to the calendar. Dates beyond 6 months in advance are disabled.
      I have to admit that I expected somehow smarter stuff than just killing ants with nuclear bombs.

  14. Happy Hotelier

    All those questions…To me it seems typically Google …. eyes focused on too many balls


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