Google launches Flight Search with booking links to airline sites only

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.

We will be exploring advertising opportunities within the page to showcase the products and services from other relevant partners, including OTA and metasearch partners. We’d also like to give users and advertisers alike the opportunity to provide feedback so that we could iterate.”

Google Flight Search is available on 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

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.

When you click on the Flights link, a Google Map appears displaying a San Francisco to Orlando fare as well as fares to other major U.S. destinations.


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.

The flight results, for a San Francisco to Orlando search, appear like this:


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.

Here’s a Google video about Flight Search:

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Dennis Schaal

About the Writer :: Dennis Schaal

Dennis Schaal was North American editor for Tnooz.



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  1. murray harrold

    Looking at this as an agent, the whole thing is a nightmare. When will someone realise that just using price is the most stupid thing to do when buying flights? You have to factor in why people are travelling and what they may require in terms of flexibility and baggage etc. The flight comparisons used by Google are highly misleading when they are not comparing like for like. US domestic fares are notoriously complicated – actually trying to find a normal fare is quite a feat. The ideas behind “differentiation” (which will probably come in to play more with the hopelessly unrealistic attempts being made to produce NDA) are simply leading to increased confusion.

    As to the Google buy now button … when and if Google get a grip, the 9% that was paid to travel agents will seem like a dream to airlines ….

  2. Donald

    The is far from complete and therefore rather useless at this point. I can find numerous missing flights that, for example, momondo is showing at this point. The whole idea behind google’s service is that nothing is left out. Without that confidence it is just a beta for QA on the interface.

    • Ashley Raiteri

      @Donald – I’m not sure where you are seeing lack of completeness, but Momondo isn’t a good place to do comparison. Momondo relies upon a cache for advertising and distribution. So for instance after doing a shop on Momond for LON-GDN and then another search from LON-CPH, it will show you a $100 fare to GDN from LON in the sidebar. But of course, no such fare is available. Many sites (Momondo is quite good otherwise) offer more content than they can reliably offer, becuase they are using stale information.

      Google’s big advantage now 3 years on from the ITA merger is the Volume of Searches.
      So Google’s cache is likely to be as good as the real thing with most markets. Flying from small airports it might miss something becuase it won’t have a recent search response to use, but for most markets, Google doesn’t even need to do a new price, becuase they probalby have a relatively fresh answer ( < 1 minute) in cache.

      Oh, and by the way. Google's result in Europe are now very ticketable…So it really has become the Best shopping engine, eclipsing even Amadeus's Master Pricer, and Vayan't product.

      • Ashley Raiteri

        The most dangerous part of Google’s Super High Quality flight search is that it now provides Booking buttons that take you directly to the Airline websites. I think this a very very dangerous time for OTAs and Metasearches. The 700 Million dollar Limp Squid that folks have referred to on this deal has apparently take a little while to wake up, but now that it has, its more scary than a Sharktopus.

  3. Aymen Sharhan

    Dear Dennis

    please advise the good steps toward in order to enhance the our airline Yemenia Airways flights and prices .. in google search (flights)

    please advise ASAP


  4. Think Flights

    I think this is not a fair deal by google, travel agents have already been hit badly by airlines websites , then comparison sites gave them some hope of survival, now with google flights, only the top companies can survive. Agents will be once again penalized.

  5. Martin Price

    Google flights is now launched in UK as well and I believe its a big blow to travel industry and many people attached to the industry, is google heading to overtake all markets? Before Google comparison sites and airlines have kicked out family travel agencies and google is putting the last nail, its not fair

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    What happening with google flight search now.

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  32. Scott

    It would be interesting to understand how Google Flights orders its search results.

    On some flight searches, not all flights are shown on the first page of results. At the bottom of the first page there is an option the user can click on to “Show all results including [airline]”. On two searches I ran for Dallas – Seattle return, these were Continental and then US airways respectively. Often the cheapest flights were offered by this airline.

    Has this happened to anyone else, and does anyone know the reason for it?


  33. Dennis Schaal

    Sean O'

    For a sense of how insiders are responding to the Google news, it’s interesting to watch who is is buying and selling shares on SharesPost and SecondMarket. This is from Institutional Investor April 2011:
    “For instance, Greg Parsons, was a software engineer who signed a standard four-year option agreement in 2004 when he began to work at Kayak. Parsons left in 2009 but kept his options. All that time Kayak was in play – a possible IPO, a potential acquisition target. But when Google announced last summer that it was acquiring Cambridge, Massachusetts-based ITA Software, which has built a rival shopping and pricing engine for the travel industry, Parsons was convinced he should sell. The process took several months, he says, but eventually he was able to sell his shares at a price that valued Kayak at $700&million.”

    An uptick in people selling shares in the quote-unquote secondary market would signal one type of sentiment. No change or a downtick would show how engineers, marketers, and others are betting their personal money as it were.

  34. Ashley Raiteri

    I understand the tendency to think that Google is HUGE, and therefore has an Army of developers working on this problem, along with a WarChest. (They did spend 700M+ to acquire ITA) but the fact of the matter is that QPX already existed, and the ITA team has not fully integreted development staff into the Mountain View team.

    My guess is that this was done with 3-4 developers at best taking advantage of the QPX cache, that’s why it has limited content. But if Kayaka and other MetaSearch is currently only having to complete with 3-4 product developers, then “Who is outgunned?”

    Most of the ITA developers are CS MIT grads used to programming in Lisp with no Web or UI Experience at all. So don’t tell me that you think that ITA’s core dev team is behind this partial release of a new Google Search feature. Maybe some of the NeedleBase team (but I think that team is only 2 devs)

    • Peggy Lee

      Ashley, your comments and observations at spot on. And it seems funny to me that some of critical of the launch product. It’s not unlike Google or anyone else to launch with limited content and less than competitive feature set. Bing launched without all US airports for fare alerts. launched without multi-city. And about going global. That is really not going to be an issue for Google.

      The bigger issue is when they get it all in place–how will they integrate it into Google Apps and other online tools used by small and large enterprises to book travel. SMEs represents 30-40% of OTA bookings. It will be a natural as much as using gmail for small business vs. MS Exchange. And I’m sure it will be integrated into calendar, mail, Google Docs and more. Then, they go after Managed Business Travel…that’s when the airlines will shake a bit

    • Martino

      Ashley, for the avoidance of missunderstanding: I was not saying Google used an army of developpers, I was just trying to point out that if they wanted to use an army of some of the best software/database/design/UI engineers, they can.

  35. Martino Matijevic

    Google will do what they do best: create fast, comprehensive, pertinent search results. They’ll mashup data with their other tools (hotel search, directions, transit, and maybe even Google+) and they’ll integrate the whole thing across their numerous platforms.

    With an IT team of 4, at we have no chance of competing with Google on technology, but what we can do is to concentrate on the way we communicate with our visitors (e.g. social media, PR, real person chat, etc.), improve our UI and add qualitative information such as reviews, tips and advice.

    Not being a price comparison search engine, Google Flights did not impact us as much as some, but we are aware we are dealing with a company which can do anything we do 10 times better if they want to. But we also don’t think Google is out there to take over flight search, only to take over organic flight search results on Google. If you rely on Google for your traffic, there’s only one thing to do: put a higher bid on Adwords!

    Martino Matijevic
    Founder & CEO
    WhichBudget – Flight Search

  36. Aaron Ritoper

    Google’s product further validates the space and shows that Meta search is a key consumer service that people want. While weaker players will suffer with Google competition, the few players with value add services will co-exist with Google flights. Travel search still has much room to develop, and users will appreciate how some companies will rise to the challenge and offer different solutions.

    • Martino Matijevic

      “some companies will rise to the challenge and offer different solutions”

      a) If you rely on Google for their traffic, you can offer what you want but people may not even bother finding out what your solution is.

      b) If people love your solution, so will Google and they can copy (and improve it) within weeks.

      • Aaron Ritoper

        Hi Martino, I understand your concern, yet just because Google can do everything — doesn’t mean they will do everything. By expanding general search, Google has created many online market opportunities for other companies. Just because Google offers this new search service doesn’t mean that there will not be opportunities for other companies. Indeed this is a fast paced area and it will take increasing resources to remain competitive.

  37. Jim Kovarik

    is this the beginning of the end or the end of the beginning?

  38. Edd

    I have seen the future perception of travel agents and it looks like this: [edited from previous version – ED]:

    travel agents are a dying breed because I can find my flights online

    online travel agents are a dying breed because I can find my flights through Google

    [Just to be clear, and avoid any abuse, both of the statements above are ********. And yes, I could have used the year 1995]

  39. Timothy O'Neil-Dunne

    I think we expected Troogle would be not be a half heated effort. And as we surmised all the way back when – Airlines could be happy.

    Its a good first effort and yes… the meta search companies who are not dealing in some form of real data are toast in my view.

    There is still a lot of heavy lifting to do and clearly the bipoles of Google in Mountain View and Cambridge are starting to resonate. I think it will be very interesting to observe how others respond. In my view first real test will be when they open the links to non-airlines and broaden outside the USA. But make no mistake. The phony war is over.


  40. Larry Smith

    The Limits slider graph is sweet. It should be highlighted so as to attract attention since it is arguable the only (visible) unique feature & function.

    Making the X/Y axis time and price minimizes Brand visibility and product differentiation as I wrote today on Tnooz —

    It would be nice if the blue and grey dots represented brands or a third benefit like “agony index.” Hopefully it would involve a branding or unique benefit point for shifting the purchase to me.

    I also wish the calendar was on display rather than a pop-up such as was done at the ITA site. Also what about a circular 24 hour clock to quickly choose time rather than tab/input or pop-up sliders.

    Great report! This industry sure does travel quickly ;->

  41. Dennis Schaal

    Dennis Schaal

    Smith: Google Flight Search doesn’t even cover all of the U.S. yet. This is just their first toe in the water. They definitely want to cover the world:) How? Well, that is another story.

  42. Smith

    Tried this, waste of time. As usual internet designers/developers of systems think that everyone lives in America… oddly enough, they don’t, there are many more of us then them! Try looking for a flight from LHR,DXB or elsewhere, waste of time!

  43. Peggy Lee

    Wow! And Fast yes. But I believe the focus should not be on the functionality at launch. They are simply testing the waters as they roll it out. Surely, no one believes that Google will not be able to meet current meta search feature set/user capabilities? It is not surprising to be able to see SWA. 1) It doesn’t drive traffic anywhere but to SWA right now, and 2) Search cost and pricing are virtually no cost to the airline.

    Of course it is cached data. That’s how ITA software works today–but it works for airlines like AA and meta’s like Kayak today, so that is really not an issue.

    Yes, it will make the OTAs and Meta Searches ADVERTISE on Google Flights, which is like some does on the metas currently. But what came to my mind reading the
    article and playing on the site, is: When will it be a threat to Corporate Travel Management. Believe me, once Google gets the core product fully launched and feature rich, it will be integrated into Google Business Tools, Gmail, Android, etc. etc., etc. and the ability to grab large share of the SME market will be inevitable–a real hit to the OTAs as well. But beyond that, large enterprises could be next. I predict a major share of the SME market shortly after full content and functionality is achieved, and large enterprises beginning to “test” it as a Corporate “booking tool” vs. Amex or Rearden in short order. Wow!

    • Murray Harrold

      One really is missing the point, here. Before one has any discussion over PPC, metasearch, OTA’s or anything else, one needs an understaning of how airline pricing works and, more importantly, how the real major premium travel *buyers* work (not to mention the practicalities or day to day business travel.

      Airline prices are not a global one size fits all… Google would be. No disrespect to (mainly) our American cousins, but there are those who fail to understand how things work outside continental USA. There is the issue of local pricing markets (very important). Further major premium traffic spend firms also leverage local markets for 2 reasons (inter alia): 1. To take advantage of those local market fare differences and 2. To move local cash/ use local cash where that cash cannot easily be moved across borders.

      Airlines face this dichotomy: To use a potentially large player and put everything behind it (which would mean placing all ones eggs in one basket, without even knowing if the basket has a strong base) or to limit this (Google) exposure so as not to risk the vital premium traffic (and beleive me, if certain major corporate agents started to get agitated, airlines would listen) along with all the benefits of local market pricing. Do not forget, local market pricing is important – there is an immense social benefit and indeed, if local market pricing were removed, yes, the customer would suffer terribly. We are not talking just USA or Western Europe only – what works in those markets does not work elesewhere.

      As regard corporate business booking tools, they have been around for ages, are mature and well developed. If Google wishes to re-invent the wheel, fine, that’s their business. Most business agents of all shapes and sizes have systems, reporting and tools in place that websites can only dream off – further, they have been in place, tried, tested, tweaked and developed over many years. Major agents are well up to date and provide their clients with innovations well before any techy can say “This seed camp thing – worth a shot?”

  44. John

    Screen scrapers RIP

    • Ashley Raiteri

      More Like, Happy Birthday Screen Scrapers. Did you see the Link at the top of the comments page. Definable, parameterized URLS? Why scrape websites with sophisticated ip bouncing things when you can just call Google for content.

  45. Bob

    I agree with the strong point that Murray makes on Google market share dominance (talk about out of the frying pan into the fire for airlines). Moreover Google seems to be unaware that due to airline price mechanics the OTAs and GDSs frequently hold fares that are actually better than the rates on airline sites. By excluding them this product would seem to work against the interest of the consumer.

    Since this move is not in the interest of the consumer it seems to me completley obvious that Google’s sole purpose is to sweep up more CPC revenue by eliminating other travel search competitors. In most countries this would open them up to legal attack on grounds of Abuse of Market Dominance. I know in the US it’s much harder to fall foul of monopoly laws but didn’t even Rockefeller have to learn the same lessons?

    PS – Nice book written in 1904 called The History of the Standard Oil Company. Someone at Google should read it. Wasn’t this the company that once claimed not to be Evil?

    • John Pope


      Better the Devil you know than the Devil you don’t.

    • John

      I beg to differ, not in the interest of the consumer ? Who do you think will pay for CPC in this space now ?

      • John Pope


        Q: “Who do you think will pay for CPC in this space now ?”

        A: PPC revenue to Google will shift from intermediaries (OTAs, Metasearch, etc.) to the suppliers directly. Cut out the middleman. Easy peasy.

        Obviously, Google wants a bigger slice of the CPA pie by slowly but surely breaking the backs of current intermediary incumbents. Pretty straightforward I’d say.

        That is the whole raison d’etre of and it’s attempt to try and prevent the inevitable from happening.

        Good luck with that now.

        I suspect we haven’t heard the last of anti-trust lawsuits and regulators around the world taking a closer look.

  46. Murray Harrold

    I would like to wait and see. Elsewhere on Tnooz, it has been suggested that Google may have a 700million damp squid. What they have may be fast – but that’s about it for the moment.

    Airlines have a lot to think about. From their perspective, the last thing any airline would want, is to have someone as big as Google having sway over their (global) inventory, how they sell it and what they can do with it. What affect would this have on an airlines global sales, given that fares differ in nearly all local markets? What about CAT35 fares? Are they to be offered as well? What affect would that have, giving Google free reign over the CAT35 fares situation? Indeed, having fares available through Google on an international basis, could have a devastating affect on airline income. They will need to think this one through very, very carefully.

    We are still dealing with the cheap stuff. At the end of the day, in any $300 fare, there is about $20 in it, give or take, for “however” you bring the fare to the passenger. You could pay $10 a pop… but as soon as someone the size of Google gets some traction with sales, that $10 could soon become a lot more… maybe even a percentage and airlines are not very keen, I would suggest, on revisiting that model for renumeration.

    The premium traffic is still controlled by major business agents and probably will be for some time to come… unless large corporates think that it may be a good idea to hand all employees a company credit card and let them get on with it. Even if websites that can control and police company travel expenditure come along, there is still the issue of the mechanics of booking. A website can only work, if one can get on the thing… and a mobile app will only work if the local network is up to speed etc etc… not to mention the roaming charges and other, so far ignored, costs of using a smartphone overseas.

    There is a lot of missing input here. The big corporate agents (who control a huge chunk of premium traffic) have not been forthright in their views. I would suspect if an airline gets a tap on the shoulder from, say, AMEX they may take a moderated view to Google’s offering. I suspect that the GDS systems are also hedging their bets. It’s far too early for them to form an opinion and again, airlines will be reluctant to antagonise the main channel for premium traffic bookings unless they were 110% sure they had an alternative in the bag.

    I can see why the techys are all a quiver.. but methinks a lot of water will have to pass beneath the bridge before airlines start beating a path to Google’s door. That said, given the rather constrained and somewhat challenged thinking in airline boardrooms, it may be that a bit of jam today may excite them, without them realising that they are lining up stale, dry crumbs for themselves, a few years hence ….

  47. John

    Very Impressed, I wonder when International will follow, WN better wake up.

  48. Michael Strauss

    .. and didn’t I tell you in my book (published Sept. 2010) that a giant outside our industry will eventually revolutionize the industry while we are too busy fighting our mini-wars: Chapter 5.2! Curious to see Apple’s next move … or if Southwest’s next reservation system is powered by Google/ITA as well?

  49. JPHart

    Ultra fast indeed!
    Note limited Delta city pairs, no fare compare, and no book.
    Agree that SWA listings is interesting.

  50. John Pope

    So that’s what $700+ million gets you… nice first iteration.

    Fast isn’t the word for it though, it’s ultra-super-sonic-speed-in-the-extreme.

    The results change faster than your eye can scan the page… scary. Feels like they’re reading your mind.

    Still prefer the results format and UI from Kayak, Skyscanner or Hipmunk. Interested to see what Everbread / Haystack will deliver in the near future as well.

    Pretty competitive space now for sure, consolidation looking more and more likely.

  51. Tom Costello

    I’m so stunned that I might smile!

  52. DonETT

    Where are Canadian cities?

  53. Carlos Faxas

    Interesting that SWA schedules come back as well 🙂

  54. Andrew Tipton

    It’s rather powerful: as long as the origin airport is one of those shown on the map, and the destination airport is reachable via a domestic flight on one of the major airlines (AA, AS, B6, CO, DL, F9, UA, US), the search results come back instantaneously. Multiple origins and destinations (up to five of each) are supported as well:;f=LAX,SFO,SEA,LAS,DEN;t=ORD,BOS,MIA,ATL,CLT;d=2011-10-10;r=2011-10-14;mp=1300;md=690

    And the results *still* come back immediately! Including the three-month chart of prices. This leads me to believe that Google/ITA has precomputed all of these results, and is simply serving these results out of a cache of some sort. That would explain why they are only offering a limited set of origin airports at this time: it probably takes an incredible amount of computing power and storage space to pre-calculate all of the possible results.

    Colour me impressed.


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