We’re hearing that Google is planning to launch an ITA integrated-flight search product as soon as a few weeks from now, according to a well-placed industry source. In April, the DOJ finally approved Google’s $700 million acquisition of airfare software company ITA, and Google officially closed the acquisition days later. The deal was being investigated as potentially being anti-competitive to the online travel search industry, as ITA’s software is used by many of Google’s rivals in travel search including Microsoft, Kayak, and Expedia.
Even at the initial announcement of the acquisition last year, Google has made it clear that it will use ITA’s data to create new flight search tools (while also promising to honor its existing agreements with partners). The launch of these tools may be just around the corner. We’ve been able to gather a few details on what Google could be unveiling.
One feature that we’ve heard is in development is a map-based search tool that will show flight prices from destinations. Travelers will be able to choose filters of where they want to fly, and price range and will be able to access these results on a map interface. It’s similar to Kayak’s Explore feature.
Another ITA integration would serve up search results of flights, times and fares based on search terms and a user’s IP address. So a consumer in New York searching for beach vacations may see results for airfares to Florida or North Carolina.
And a more obvious integration that is planned will surface airfare results for more specific queries like “cheap flights to Paris.” Whereas Google has already started to add flight schedules and airline routes (not from ITA); these results would include ITA’s airfare data, showing users how much each flight would cost and where you could book the flight (i.e. Delta, American Airlines etc.).
The big question is how Google meaningfully entering the travel search market (armed with ITA Software) will impact its competitors. Google is a giant in the search space, so it’s not unreasonable to think that the company could capture serious market share in travel search.
As stipulated by the Justice Department, Google is required to continue to license ITA’s airfare search software to airfare websites on commercially “reasonable terms” and to continue to fund the development of ITA’s software at similar levels to what ITA has invested in recent years. Google is also mandated to further develop and offer ITA’s next generation InstaSearch product, which is currently in development, to travel websites, which will provide near instantaneous results to certain types of flexible airfare search queries.
And internally, Google has to implement firewall restrictions within the company that prevent unauthorized use of competitively sensitive information and data gathered from ITA’s customers. Lastly, Google is also prohibited from entering into agreements with airlines that would inappropriately restrict the airlines’ right to share seat and booking class information with Google’s competitors. The settlement provides for a formal reporting mechanism for complainants if Google breaks any of these terms.
Basically Google has to tread very carefully in the travel search space. And the company is already a possible target of a FTC probe for anti-competitive behavior.
Of course, Google has certainly had its product flops (most recently Google Health and Powermeter), but search is the company’s bread and butter. If I were a betting woman, I’d bet that Google will be able to leverage Google Maps, its search technology and ITA’s data in a pretty compelling travel search product.
Google declined to comment on this report.