Kayak To Google Flight Search: Drop Dead

Friday, December 30, 2011


Notice anything different this month when you searched for airfares on Google? Try typing in “New York to Los Angeles,” and you’ll notice that Google’s Flight Search service now pops up at the top of results — below several advertisements, but prominently “above the fold” (industry term for the part of your screen you can see without scrolling down).

As The Wall Street Journal reports (subscription required), this is not making the top travel websites happy, especially those like Kayak that receive close to 20% of their business from Google searches (this number is around 13-15% for Orbitz, Priceline, Travelocity and Expedia each). They point to certain concessions Google made to the Department of Justice prior to acquiring ITA — the flight-data company that is the backbone of the online travel industry — including Google’s commitment to “build[ing] tools that drive more traffic to airline and online travel agency sites.”

To give credit to Google (hi Google, please continue ranking The Expeditioner and providing our pages prominently in search results), their Flight Search service simply provides the time, availability and prices for fares, then allows you to book directly through the airliner’s own site (while picking up an ad fee along the way), saving the ailing industry a considerable amount of money in third-party booking fees.

As any good bargain shopper knows, information and availability are our weapons. Why not start with Flight Search? Get the fare the airliners are offering, than shop around your favorite deal sites for competing offers. If these sites are going to succeed in the long run, their strength is going to have to lie in offering better prices, package deals, special information and usability features the airliners don’t offer themselves.

If anything, Flight Search should be a wake-up call to the industry that it can no longer rest on its laurels and expect Google to drive its traffic. Innovation and marketing will be the key to move forward, and no search result can beat that.

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