Google Offering Direct Booking Of Airfare, Could Change How Travel Is Sold

Google is a great source for finding flights and hotels as well as activities at your destination. Eight years ago Google was on the cusp of becoming your new travel agent and the online travel agencies (like Expedia) were trying to get the federal government to stop them.

Until now Google has largely sent travelers to other sites to make bookings. You could research what flight you wanted on Google flights, and if it was a Delta itinerary it would send you to Delta to book. The same is mostly true for hotels, but there’s in some cases an option to complete your hotel booking directly with Google.

  • Presenting consumers with exactly what they’re looking for is better than sending them somewhere they’re likely to find it on their own.

  • Completing a transaction in one step, rather than sending someone off-site, is easier and faster for the consumer.

Expedia hates it because they want the eyeballs and they want to earn commission off the sale. If Google does a better job for customers, giving them the information they want and an efficient checkout experience, from Expedia’s standpoint that has to be stopped. (Even better would be if Expedia delivered a better product to consumers but in my experience and that of many readers they’re awful and my impression is they aren’t getting better. So Google is welcome here.)

Now Google has made another foray into becoming direct competitor with online travel agencies. You can now book Vistara flights directly with Google Flights. That’s great if you’re in India, not so much if you’re in the United States.

Google will still send you to Delta to book Delta. But it’s indicative that they’re finally moving towards becoming a direct competitor in the travel space. For a long time Google has said “In some cases, you’ll be able to “Book on Google,” completing your transaction with the airline or travel agency while staying on Google.”

When travel booking went online, consumers had direct power over their travel. The cost to book most simple trips fell dramatically, and traditional travel agents were squeezed out of the process.

Something was lost, though. Good agents provided guidance on what flights best matched a customer’s needs. Was a connection through a certain hub at a certain time of year too risky, considering the meetings a passenger was trying to make? Or should they take a chance in the given situation? What hotel was going to best match their preferences?

Online travel agencies didn’t really enter that breach. Instead of actually guiding travelers to what’s best for them, Expedia has been known to monetize eyeballs – in other words, passengers are less the customer and more the product, when the online travel site charges hotels for better search placement.

Making travel booking easier and more seamless, and guiding consumers through the confusing world of airfares, itineraries, and changing hotel options, is something that would be welcome in the new world. I have enough problems with my own travel, with tickets getting properly issued for instance, that it amazes me the average traveler can even make it from origin to destination much of the time.

Adding direct flight booking seems like a minor move with Vistara, hopefully it signals big things to come. Hopefully the Department of Justice’s anti-trust suit against Google won’t protect agency sites which fail to innovate, and stand in the way of consumers getting the travel guidance they need.

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. @ Alan – Data gathering and spying are two different things. It’s the intent that counts.

  2. @Gary,
    I have used Google Flights for years to help me find flight deals. However, there are times, when the ticket price they list is not the same as the when you go to purchase it from the information source. I think they will need to tighten that up. Also, maybe this will encourage airlines to provide enhanced rewards/ benefits for booking directly with them!?

  3. So you think Google will be a better travel agency than Expedia or any other OTA (since they will likely all be put out of business) once Google has monopolized the travel search market the way they have web search? You must also believe that none of the anti trust lawsuits have any merits and Google is here to benevolently serve the travel consumer (versus the supplier). That Google travel search result rankings will never be influenced by which suppliers pay Google more? I disagree.

  4. They also offer “Book with Google” for certain Spirit airlines flights too, it is really good there as you avoid all of Spirit’s upsells.

  5. I normally search with DuckDuckGo and was shocked using Google recently and finding 4 huge search ads at the top of the results. On my iPad only one ‘organic’ result is displayed without scrolling. Too much crap everywhere on Google for my taste.

  6. Why is anyone “shocked” to see Google ads? The aren’t hiding anything, and ads are labeled as such. Google is not a charity and needs money to exist. Nobody forces you to go to their site.

  7. I like Google Flights feature but it’s a starting point. No different than using Google Shopping for a random product. The results you see often don’t tell you all the information involved. Also this is fine to self book travel but when things go off the rails for the average traveler that is when it helps to have a real travel agent. I also think that Expedia charges for search result placement and Google will do that at some level as well.

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