Google Travel Offering Price Drop Guarantee for Flight Bookings: Get Paid Back When Fares Fall

We’ve been waiting for Google to become more aggressive in the travel space for years finally doing something to disrupt online travel booking. For a long time they would help you plan, find deals, and send you to Expedia or Priceline to book.

Now Expedia and others complain that Google doesn’t just send business along to them, but consumers are now the ones who benefit.

Between August 13 and September 2 when Google predicts an airfare won’t drop, and you book it, they’ll keep checking for lower prices up until departure and automatically refund the difference if it does.

Here’s how you’ll know a flight is eligible for this price guarantee:

And a sample price rebate email:

It’ll be interesting to see what Google learns during this test, how much this costs them, and how much incremental business they’re able to drive — which we’re unlikely to learn the answer to until we see what Google’s followup strategy looks like. Clearly, however, they’re moving aggressively into the travel booking space and have the potential to disrupt major players.

There’s something fundamentally wrong, I think, with the incumbent large online travel agency websites. In my own experience, and from emails I get from readers, my sense is:

  • They 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.

  • They 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.

  • Instead 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.

Wouldn’t it Be Nice if Expedia Dancers Processed Automatic Refunds? Flickr: Juggernautco

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.

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. This step by Google looks like it should be applauded. Regardless…

    Expedia is a nightmare to get through to and deal with if you have any changes or problems. Friends and family have reported all sorts of problems with it. I made the mistake of using it once. Though the airline involved (Finnair) assured me that the subsequent change I wanted to make would be fine if I’d booked directly with the airline, Expedia threw all sorts of hassles and obstacles in the way. A simple change required at least five phone calls, hours of time just waiting on the phone to get through, and generally lousy customer service and attitudes. Avoid it like the plague.

  2. Went to Google Flights to book some trips I needed anyway and didn’t see the price guarantee anywhere. Then I remembered it’s not August 13 yet. D’oh.

    Thanks for sharing. This is a cool development.

  3. One of my favorite features on Google Flights that I rarely see anywhere else is the ability to search prices for a broad area for certain dates. A friend and I always take a trip on a particular weekend, and we’ve often searched Google Flights to see what the best place we can visit cheaply is. (I fly out of BOI and she flies out of DFW.) In one instance, it was cheaper for both of us to fly to Amsterdam than it was to Florida, so that’s where we went! Expedia and Priceline don’t offer this kind of search, so I don’t even check their websites anymore.

  4. Keep in mind Google is an unknown quantity with respect to providing human customer service. But it’s hard to imagine it can be worse than Expedia. They are borderline scam artists.

  5. What I have found Expedia useful for is combining carriers into a single reservation (or ticket) that the individual airlines don’t offer on their own websites. For instance, I recently booked and flew a trip that combined United and Air Canada segments into one reservation that was cheaper than what either the UA or AC websites would offer. I also booked an AA / Iberia itinerary that also wasn’t offered on the carriers’ websites.

    However, getting seat assignments and even airline-specific confirmation numbers was very challenging even for a well-versed air traveler like myself. I had to spend quite a bit of time on the phone with the carriers to get this sorted, and in AA’s case, they even had to go to their help desk to get the confirmation number for the return segment on AA (which was somehow different than the outbound AA segment). I couldn’t imagine a lay person booking those types of itineraries and having it go well.

  6. Is Google powerful enough to be extracting some of the guarantee costs from the airlines? The OTAs? Or paying all of it by itself? (Maybe testing this to then pursue some cost sharing later?) Google has the immense power to route bookings to the airline or numerous OTAs.

  7. At least Google is trying…

    Expedia provides very poor customer service and should have their behinds kicked.

  8. Google is buying your data from you. Use a private browser session or I guarantee Google will be selling your data to every hotel, car rental, ,restaurant, etc.

  9. I have not been a fan of the whole world becoming “Googled” but when it comes to travel, I say Go Google. I agree wholeheartedly with everything the writer says about the OTA’s. Appalling service. I have booked through Expedia on rare occasions and had an issue and ended up waiting up to 2 hours to talk with someone in an India call-centre who can hardly speak english. Terrible, terrible terrible.

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