Out in the open? Ryanair touts top-secret Google partnership

Nothing like a story about two of the industry’s most talked about brands – Ryanair and Google – working together to get people a bit hot under the collar.

An interview with Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary in the Irish Independent this weekend talks about “top-secret plans” between the carrier and Google to launch a product in March this year.

O’Leary is quoted as saying:

“There are some very exciting developments with Google, where we have been working with them on sharing the pricing.

“We’ll be sharing the Ryanair pricing through all of the Google outlets, so when you go in, there’ll be route selections, cheapest prices and so on. Google are developing a price-comparison thing themselves.

“They want to launch with us and we’re working with them on that kind of product.”

Now, typically for Ryanair, it’s a great and attention-grabbing headline (“O’Leary reveals Ryanair-Google plan to ‘change how we buy tickets forever’…”) and story for the mainstream press.

O’Leary continues:

“Google will say, ‘Here are the fares,’ then you click straight through to Ryanair or someone else. It blows everyone else out of the water.”

Curiously, one particular brand the famously mouthy CEO says will be elevated (not in a positive way) as a result of the partnership is Skyscanner.

This, of course, is the same Skyscanner that many years ago had an agreement with the carrier by which it could pull fares and timetables into its search engine.

Ryanair doesn’t normally like metasearch engines or agencies (it used CAPTCHAs to stop scrapers – or it just sued them), preferring to have customers do all their search and shopping direct on the site.

But clearly a deal with Google changes its mindset somewhat.

The reality of this “top-secret” partnership is perhaps far less exciting than the story and O’Leary’s soundbites (which will likely trigger all manner of follow-up stories) suggest.

For those who have been following Google’s somewhat staid approach to producing dedicated travel search since it bought ITA software in July 2010, O’Leary’s words will sound very familiar.

He is, in some respects, talking about Google Flight Search, the service which launched in the US in September 2011 and which (finally) went international in March 2013.

If GFS had somewhat lukewarm progress in the US (it had a mere fraction of Kayak’s share of traffic after two years), internationally – and in Europe in particular – some might suggest it barely registers.

What Google Flight Search – and, let’s face it, almost every other airline search brand in Europe – has lacked is the ability to include fares and availability from some of the big low cost carriers – not least, Ryanair.

The Irish carrier’s arch rival EasyJet in Europe has been involved in metasearch for a number of years (and even the GDS), so such a move to finally have an official relationship with a high profile brand (it doesn’t get bigger than Google, even if the flight product isn’t ) would make sense.

This would be even more beneficial to the carrier if it can perhaps add some bells and whistles to Google Flight Search to perhaps somehow display the dizzying array of ancillary services it offers on its own website.

The mechanics of how all this will work are unclear, and there will certainly be some questions that, inevitably, no-one will eventually answer, around the commercials Google is offering, especially if it demands some degree of exclusivity.

Some, in respects, this partnership is a win-win (at this stage) for both giants of the airline and search worlds – much-needed attention for Google’s fledgling flight search engine (perhaps even a “relaunch”) and a boost for Ryanair’s digital credentials with consumers (there is lots of talk in the article about mobile) and the beginnings of a change in strategy whereby intermediaries will no longer be the evil-doers of the industry.

If nothing else, as-per-usual for Ryanair, it’s great PR.

NB: Google has not responded to a request for comment. Ryanair, bizarrely, given that we did not speculate in our questions, says it “does not comment on speculation”.

A Skyscanner official says:

“We don’t comment on the specifics of our agreements with airlines or travel agencies but for avoidance of doubt, Skyscanner enables users to search Ryanair flights as well as direct airlines and travel agencies around the world to find the best flights.

“We have spent many years developing the proprietary technology to enable us to offer our customers a best in class flight search tool and we believe we offer the most comprehensive global flight coverage that is both free and unbiased.”

NB2: Micheal O’Leary Ryanair image via Shutterstock.

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Kevin May

About the Writer :: Kevin May

Kevin May was a co-founder and member of the editorial team from September 2009 to June 2017.



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  1. Sam Lindner

    Reminds me of the Bourne movies – “Come on in Jason, give yourself up, we will protect you”
    Since when do Google not have revenue in mind somewhere along the way. Sure they want data, of course they do, that will ultimately lead to better development of their own flight search product, a product that they will make money from Ryan Air in some way eventually.

  2. Valentin Dombrovsky

    There’s, however, one more thing that is missed:
    “Existing sites that compare flight prices including Kayak, Expedia, Skyscanner and others are at a disadvantage compared to Google, in that it can act with complete independence from the airlines it lists. Many travel sites enter into marketing arrangements with their airline partners, which is understandable as that’s the obvious revenue model to exploit. Google, however, is seeking only access to the data of airlines, asking nothing in return in terms of payment, and instead selling its standard ads on the back of its ability to reach a massive audience”.

    So, here it is – Google “blowing up” the market. It can work with airlines asking nothing except their information in return and making money on PPC ads.

  3. Bobby Healy

    Great analysis tnooz. Well done. The irish newspapers are loving this story and you correctly describe it for what it is. Great pr for Ryanair. Simple as.

  4. Ian

    @Mark… isn’t Kayak powered by ITA who are owned by Google? Surely Ryanair’s availability/pricing is being fed into ITA which surely should be available to Kayak.

    Also, to those who say “screen scraping” … just remember Google is the world’s biggest screen scraper! 🙂

    • Kevin May

      Kevin May

      @ian – Kayak only has tiny part of its searches powered by ITA nowadays, Amadeus does the lion’s share.

    • Mark Lenahan

      Ian – when I wrote that comment I checked DUB-LGW on kayak.com (which redirects to kayak.ie) microsite and saw Ryanair schedule but not the prices. I have since tried a few other searches on some other sites, like kayak.co.uk, routes ex-London, and in some cases I am seeing Ryanair pricing with the option to book on Ryanair (but the link is just to homepage, not deep link). So honest answer – I’m not sure what is going on. They don’t see to have all content in all markets.

  5. David Gunnarsson

    We (Dohop) have been happily working with Ryanair officially for years, screen scraping for prices and linking to the front-page instead of directly into the booking process. Add to that, they don’t pay us a cent for referrals or bookings, but could this signal a change in tune with respect to that? Doubtful, but more direct and official cooperation with flight meta searches would most welcome, as well as deep-linking into the booking process would be a welcome addition for our customers. Anyway, a good article and this news may even be better PR for Google flights than for Ryanair. We all know they need it.

  6. Mark Lenahan

    I don’t know if this specifically signals a general softening or opening up of Ryanair’s distribution model.

    From Ryanair’s perspective meta-search is a much better model than GDS/OTA distribution because the customer still completes the booking on Ryanair so they are the merchant and have a shot at getting all of the ancillary revenue directly. Bear in mind also, Ryanair aren’t as good at ancillary revenue as they say they are. When you count sale of FFP points as ancillary revenue, Ryanair are not nearly as good at ancillary revenue as many of the network carriers (Ref: IdeaWorks reports).

    Also bear in mind Ryanair have a lot of leverage when it comes to the traffic cost they pay the meta-search. They can argue that the meta-search needs them more than they need the meta-search. They already have higher (organic) traffic than most of them, and if you compare Kayak and Skyscanner results, you can conclude that for some consumers on some routes, Kayak is at a significant disadvantage for not having Ryanair pricing.

    That said, I expect Ryanair might soften their views on the distribution, given how successful this strategy has been for EasyJet.

  7. Valentin Dombrovsky

    All right, so Ryanair is going to work directly with Google metasearch. Is that a revolution? Well, maybe for Ryanair it is but not for anyone else. So, yeah, it’s Ryanair PR – nothing more.

    • stephan ekbergh

      agree Valentin. What would be different?

    • Kevin May

      Kevin May

      @valentin – which is what we said…

    • Kevin May

      Kevin May

      @valentin – the other element to note, which we also did, would be Ryanair’s move to working with intermediaries such as metas in a more “official” way… following rival carrier EZY.

  8. Irish Cottage

    Fascinating how Ryanair are looking to retain their market leadership by softening the image and looking at new alliances such as this. Just when many people thought they were so inflexible in managing their (very effective) business model!


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