Google Now Offers Airfare Price Guarantee, They’ll Pay You The Difference If Price Drops

Google has just introduced a price guarantee for airline tickets. If you buy a flight they say is at the right price, and the fare drops later, they’ll give you the difference. This should bring more attention to the generally-excellent Google Flights.

  • A badge will appear next to guaranteed itineraries
  • Google will track the price and if it falls they’ll pay out the difference (as long as it’s at least $5)
  • The feature is capped at $500 and refunds on no more than 3 itineraries per year per Google user
  • They won’t guarantee pricing on any itineraries more than 60 days out

You need to be signed into your Google account, pay in US dollars, and use a U.S. billing address and U.S. phone number when you make your booking. And you have to be signed up up with Google pay for a reimbursement, but you can do that later (when you become reimbursement-eligible).

Not all airlines are going to be eligible for this either, “you are most likely to see the guarantee offered on Alaska, Spirit, and Hawaiian Airlines flights,” according to Google.

Bear in mind this isn’t just about selling you travel.

  • They are a data company
  • They want your travel searches
  • Then they can cross sell you via ads

Google tested this briefly in 2019 and it’s taken them nearly four years to bring it back. In the meantime you can even get a price guarantee from Capital One’s Hopper-powered site. And the idea itself harkens back at least to over 15 years ago.

Price guarantee is only one piece of the puzzle, more broadly we’re too limited in terms of searching on price (and the Department of Transportation has proposed making the price the primary way consumers inform their decisions in perpetuity). We need better online travel sites. Google does a good job searching schedule and fares, and has some rich data to show once you’ve searched that way, but it hasn’t done enough to go beyond that and really displace the large online travel agency websites.

In my own experience, and from emails I get from readers, my sense is the Expedias and Booking.coms of the world:

  • provide poor customer service, often long hold times for agents without the capability to help with much of anything that goes wrong with a booking.

  • don’t do a very good job of helping customers identify the best trip for their needs. There’s very little guidance on the best connection, what flight experience is going to match a customer’s preferences, or what hotel they’ll enjoy.

So customers are either left to their own devices to pick whatever is out there (so pretty much zero value add) or worse options – especially for hotels – that are presented based on which hotels will pay a premium for consumer eyeballs rather than what hotel will best meet a customer’s needs or what will give them the best price.

Online travel agency websites complain that Google is delivering travel results directly to customers instead of sending people to their websites where they can collect a toll (commission) on the transaction. And they want the government to step in and force Google to deliver customers to them.

I say that online travel agency websites should be better, should add value to customers, so that customers will want and prefer the service that they’re providing. We need Expedia companies, and Priceline companies, to respond to competition and improve — not to run to the government to shut Google down from offering better services to consumers.

(HT: Paul H)

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. “Then they can cross sell you via ads”

    Jokes on them, I use an adblocker. Also used that the Ublock origin element picker mode to remove pozzed content within their search engine, like trying to get me to pick by flight based on carbon emissions and other nonsense.

  2. @Chad – they can show you contextual ads if you use gmail, they can push things to you if you’re on an android phone, won’t apply to literally everyone but it’s not just display ads

  3. @gary Do you have any thoughts on the economics of this–specifically whether it’s Google and/or the airlines who are subsidizing these refunds to the customers when the price drops?

    I’m thinking that while a $500 max cap seems generous on the surface, but the reality is that most customers will end up maxing out the refund count rather than the refund amount, so for example, a hypothetical customer with 7 annual fight bookings who ultimately ends up getting 3 drops during the year averaging $25 each for a max out-of-pocket to Google and/or the airline of $75.

    Maybe the calculation is that a customer is more likely to book with say Alaska rather than one of its competitors at a similar price point due to the chance of a price drop, hence it’s worth it to them to subsidize some of this given the increased market share shift they would enjoy.

    It’s an interesting model and while you lay out the nuts and bolts above, it would be great to hear more about the “inside baseball” on this from a business model perspective, even if it is speculation.

  4. I have found that the Expeduas of the world are not customer oriented at all. Google however does a pretty good job of just giving you a list of available flights and then directs you to the carriers website to purchase your ticket. I therefore usually go directly to the airline or hotel for bookings and avoid the middleman. When I have a problem it makes it easier to deal directly with the airline or hotel. I have had issues where Expedia told me to go to the airline/hotel to solve a problem and then having that entity refer me back to Expedia.

  5. @Jonathan there is either an airline component or just better-trained data on a handful of smaller airlines, i have to think though that they’re paying for promotion on google (smart)

  6. Won’t guarantee more than 60 days out? Oh well; it sounded good up until that. I always book before then for fear of prices going up or flights becoming unavailable. Perhaps I’m being overly-cautious.

  7. I am upset at Expedia for cutting the 10% rebate on to around 2%. The 10% rebate was my primary usage of an OTA, and with that being reduced, I feel that there is almost no point in using them anymore for anything other than a brief search.

  8. Kayak is the best flight-search website. When looking for flights, I look at 2 websites: Kayak and Southwest.

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