Expedia, Rivals Urge DOJ to Halt Google's ITA Purchase

Google's $700 million bid to buy travel software company ITA was formally protested by Expedia, Kayak.com and others with the formation of FairSearch.org Oct. 26.

Top travel Websites have marshaled their efforts to stop Google's planned purchase of travel software company ITA Software, which the companies claim would give Google too much sway over their industry.

Expedia and its brands Expedia.com, Hotwire and TripAdvisor; Sabre Holdings and its brand Travelocity; Kayak and its brand SideStep; and Farelogix formed the FairSearch.org coalition to urge the U.S. Justice Department to challenge's Google's $700 million purchase bid for ITA.

ITA's software helps airlines, search engines and online travel companies organize flight information, including flight times, availability and prices. FairSearch.org claims ITA's technology drives 65 percent of all carrier-direct online flight searches in the United States.

Google said it plans to use ITA's data to build new flight search tools that will make it easier for users to search for flights, compare flight options and purchase tickets.

ITA customers include American Airlines, Continental Airlines, Southwest Airlines, United Airlines, US Airways and Virgin Atlantic.

But it's ITA's search engine customers that are most concerned with this deal. Microsoft Bing, Hotwire and Kayak.com and online travel companies Expedia and Orbitz all use ITA's software to populate their travel search products.

With the exception of Orbitz, Priceline, Vayant, Travelport and a few others, most of companies are concerned that if Google gets ITA it will become a travel search powerhouse that will cut off their access to the valuable ITA data.

Thomas Barnett, who as a former assistant attorney general led the DOJ's Antitrust Division from 2005 to 2008 and currently counsels to Expedia, said Google could use ITA to stifle competition in online flight search and to extend its dominance in Internet search into search for online travel.

"The end result could be higher travel prices, fewer travel choices for consumers and businesses, and less innovation in online travel search," according to a statement by FairSearch.org.

Google Senior Product Manager Andrew Silverman wrote in a blog post Oct. 26 that it's "disappointing that a number of travel companies" have announced their concerns about the deal.

Silverman maintained that Google plans no anti-competitive practices, arguing that it will honor ITA's existing agreements and hopes to add the travel Websites as new partners.

The search engine noted that ITA does not set ticket prices or sell them, "so it's hard to see why [the acquisition] would result in higher prices."

The FairSearch.org coalition, a coalescence of protests Expedia and the others have made since the deal was announced, is an effort to put wood behind the DOJ's ongoing investigation into Google's play for ITA.

Concerned by the travel companies' claims, the DOJ launched an inquiry into the bid, and issued a second request for information in August.