If someone were to tell you that Google just launched flight travel search results without using data it culled from ITA Software, you’d probably think it a joke.
You’d be wrong.
Less than two months after Google closed a very contentious negotiation to acquire flight data provider ITA for $700 million, the company has begun showing summaries of flight information right on its search results page.
Check out these options for flights from JFK in New York to San Francisco:
Note the non-stop flight choices for Delta, United or American Airlines. Users may also see all flights from New York or San Francisco by clicking the “Show all non-stop routes,”
Flight schedule search is currently available in English, French, Italian, German, Spanish, Dutch, Brazilian Portuguese, Polish, Russian, Turkish and Catalan.
Interestingly, the flight search technology doesn’t leverage ITA’s assets, claimed Google software engineer Petter Wedum:
“While this flight schedule feature does not currently use ITA’s search technology, this is just a small step towards making richer travel information easier to find, and we hope to make finding flights online feel so easy, it’ll feel like… well, a vacation!“
At first blush, one might think this would be enough to make the members of the FairSearch,org group, including Expedia and Microsoft, tear its collective hair out.
These companies tirelessly lobbied the Justice Department to kill or restrict the deal out of concern for the sway Google would hold over the market with the ITA data.
To see Google not only secure ITA but launch flight search tools without ITA data must be tough … except that ITA provides much more granular flight schedule and flight fare information, which is a much bigger deal.
Schedules are nice, but people want to find cheap flights, which they may do on Bing, Kayak and other travel search providers who pay for a firehose feed of ITA’s valuable flight data.
Moreover, non-stop flights are a great start, but people want to know flights with connections, too.
Flight schedules shift so frequently that it’s a tougher data trick, but it’s super necessary for budget-conscious companies who order their travel agents to book the cheapest flights they can find. And the cheapest flights almost always include connecting flights.
So Google’s flight search move is clearly aimed at planting a seed for the summer vacation rush, which yields millions of searches and ads to pair with them. And that’s Google’s play here.