Google Flight Search results now high in Google organic search results
Google Flight Search — kaboom — is taking the next step and expanding in a major way into Google search results pages.
Until now, you could access the airline-only Google flight metasearch tool by clicking a Flights link on the left side of search results pages or by entering Google.com/flights, but Google says the tool will now also be embedded into classic search results pages.
Enter “flights from San Francisco to Los Angeles” and the following is what you’ll see, Google says (although it hadn’t arrived to this reporter’s computer yet and likely will be a phased rollout). It will look like this:
Google Flight Search detects your location and appears as the top organic result in this example, showing fares from Virgin America, United, Continental and an “unknown price” from perennial metasearch holdout Southwest. You can adjust the dates right there on the Google search results page to finetune your search, compare fares and then navigate to the airline website, metasearch-style.
Google Flight Search takes up a lot of prime real estate on the Google search results page and will inevitably renew calls of “foul” amidst allegations that Google is using its market power to favor its own products versus those of competitors like Kayak or online travel agencies such as Expedia, Priceline, Travelocity, Orbitz and Cheapoair.
Flight search results on Google search results pages have undergone a radical re-ordering in recent years. Up until the last few days and until the Google Flight Search expansion is phased in, Google showed individual airline links — and nonstop schedules — without enabling consumers to compare fares airline to airline, like this:
But, for years prior to that, Google showed online travel agency links only in its own flight search box in organic results.
The further integration of Google Flight Search into organic results was an inevitable step, although making it so prominent and dominant wasn’t the only option.
Major US-headquartered OTAs, such as those cited above, are still reeling over the fact that Google Flight Search has basically shut them out. They point to seemingly unfulfilled Google pledges during the ITA Software acquisition process that the new Google metasearch offering would benefit consumers and provide more effective leads to OTAs and others.
As you recall, Google Flight Search, which is still domestic only but looking to go international soon, produces core search results from airlines only and relegates OTAs and Kayak to small advertisements at the bottom of the page.
At top official at one OTA figuratively scatches his head and wonders what Google is thinking about pursuing such a “closed marketplace.”
Relegating OTA ads to the bottom of the screen, forcing consumers to restart their flight searches once clicking on an OTA ad — if consumers get that far — is bad for consumers, OTAs and Google, goes the argument.
Those tiny ads are not meaningful to OTAs, the official says.
He also notes that it is doubtful that Google is making much money from the airlines at this juncture in Google Flight Search so it is all the more curious that Google wouldn’t seek to increase the OTA participation level.
Some airlines, such as American, Delta and others, place restrictions — or level economic disincentives — on OTAs in relation to how they provide airline fares in metasearch such as Kayak and Google Flight Search, but there are plenty of airlines which don’t, the executive says.
The OTA official argues that allowing airlines — if indeed they are doing so — to dictate who can participate in Google Flight Search would be akin to giving Sony or Samsung veto power over Google’s electronic product results, he adds.
The implication here is that adding OTAs to Google Flight Search results is definitely doable, would benefit consumers and provide more of a level playing field, the OTA executive says.
You get the feeling from talking to the major OTAs that there are no immediate Google moves afoot to give OTAs more real estate within Google Flight Search — and that is indeed surprising.
Or at least Google is not giving the OTAs any indication that big changes are imminent in their minor participation in Google Flight Search.
This shutout may be raising some eyebrows among regulators and Congress, both of which have been looking into Google search practices.
A couple of other OTAs indicate that Google Flight Search is one trigger to an approaching era of increased OTA-airline friction.
Several airlines have been reminding OTAs of airline-dictated metasearch restrictions, which would apply to Kayak, Google Flight Search and others.
These include airline mandates that OTAs not show airline interline or multicarrier itineraries in metasearch results, and some airlines, such as Delta and American Airlines, insist that only they can display their flights and fares in metasearch.
While these airline mandates to OTAs about how they play in metasearch have largely been a US phenomenon until now, international carriers in Skyteam and Oneworld are also getting into the act and are newly aggressive, one OTA representative says.
Most of the OTAs in the US have their major airline deals locked up, but they are feeling the pressure from some airlines nonetheless.
The introduction of Google Flight Search in the way Google has done so will only up the ante — and the maneuverings and industry pushback will be an ongoing tale for months, if not years.
Dennis Schaal was North American editor for Tnooz.