by Roger Yu
Sept 13, 2011
Google introduced a search tool on Tuesday for shopping for flights that pits the popular search engine against sites such as Travelocity and Kayak.
Travelers can search for flights at google.com/flights and filter their flight queries by price, airlines and routes. It also has a bar chart showing which travel dates are more expensive to fly. Google has been offering flight schedules since May.
Google's move has been expected since it bought flight-data provider ITA Software for $700 million earlier this year.
Online travel agencies and so-called meta-search sites such as Kayak vigorously lobbied federal regulators to block the deal, fearing that it would pave the way for the tech giant to seamlessly integrate flight searches into its other products and dominate the travel shopping industry.
Google's entry into flight shopping will fundamentally change customer experience, travel technology analyst Norm Rose predicts.
"This is only the beginning of the transformation of general search into travel search that will save the consumer steps in the travel planning process," he says.
Google concedes that its new tool is a work in progress. International flights and small U.S. cities aren't available. Customers wishing to book premium-class tickets will have to look elsewhere.
"This is just an early look: the takeoff — not the final destination," Google says on its blog in announcing the product.
As with its other products, Google is staying away from commercial transactions. Instead, it directs customers to airlines' websites if they want to buy a ticket.
Unlike other online travel shopping sites, Google shows results only from participating airlines. But it hinted that it will display flights from other online travel agencies in the future.
"Airlines control how their flights are marketed, so as with other flight search providers, our booking links point to airline websites only," the company says. "We're working to create additional opportunities for our other partners in the travel industry to participate as well." Analysts have said travel search-only sites such as Kayak, Bing and Hipmunk have more to lose from Google's emergence than do online travel agencies that still offer booking services.
But Robert Birge, chief marketing officer of Kayak, says his company is "confident in (its) ability to compete."
"We believe our flight search technology is superior," he says. "We recognize Google is a formidable competitor, but they haven't been successful in every (niche) they've entered."
Google has been steadily adding travel products, including a tool to find hotels and the recent acquisition of review and guidebook publisher Zagat.
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