FairSearch - for the right result

Fact-Checking Google: Winners and Losers in Online Travel

If Google buys ITA, would the search giant choose winners and losers in online travel?

Say, for example, when the average Bob types in “domestic airline flights” in the Google search box, will Google now place links to its own new flight search tools at the top of the page and links to existing travel meta-search companies, like KAYAK, at the bottom or even the next page?  Chances are Bob would never even scroll down that far to click on any non-Google options.

Here’s Google’s answer:

“[W]e don’t have detailed plans to share about how new flight search tools will be triggered or appear on Google results pages or how they will be monetized.”

Maybe we didn’t get “A’s” in high school English, but that statement sure looks like, yet again, Google’s not making any promises. Google never rules out that it won’t manipulate the display of search results to favor its own offerings over those of competitors. And why would it if it could use its huge market share (72% of the search market) to steer millions of consumers to its own flight search offerings?

Google says:

“[O]ur goal will be to refer people quickly to a site where they can actually purchase flights, and that we have no plans to sell flights ourselves.”

But that’s not the point. Google makes its money from selling online ads for search terms, not selling airline tickets.  And it has been competition among online travel search companies — not booking services — that has helped consumers find better options and that has put pressure on airlines to reduce fares.  If it sucks consumers away from other travel search sites, Google’s business will gain, while competing sites and consumers will suffer.

The real losers from Google’s game plan are travelers like Bob, who won’t have access to as many flight and fare options as before-and quite probably, higher fares.