US-based online travel industry coalition FairSearch.org has published a 27-page report on Google’s Flight Search service, the first product emanating from its purchase of ITA Software.
The document entitled Google Flight Search – Is Google keeping its promises on ITA software makes a series of claims that FairSearch says supports its assertion that Flight Search is bad for consumers.
It also believes that aspects of the way the service displays results is in breach of US Department of Transport (DOT) consumer protection rules.
Having conducted a “test drive” of Flight Search the report in particular points out how results do not clearly show the carrier operating the flight or baggage charges on the first page.
For a search on a flight from Los Angeles to New York, FairSearch points out that the search results are not sorted by price, claiming more consumers seek the lowest price.
FairSearch points out that lower-priced fares negotiated by OTAs and multi-carrier journeys are excluded from results and many of the advertised fares are unavailable to be booked online.
Google has said it will look for ways for OTAs like Kayak, Expedia and Priceline to advertise within search pages, but FairSearch argues this is just a mechanism for Google to drive more paid advertising revenue as they are pushed out of natural results.
The group says Google has not included OTAs and meta-search sites because the airline have said they do not want them included but questions whether this is true of all airlines or just favoured ones that the search engine has asked.
The FairSearch reports claims Google is moving towards more of a Cost Per Acquisition (CPA) model from Cost Per Click, meaning it has an incentive to encourage more higher-priced fares to be bought.
The report concludes that Google’s practices will stifle completion and innovation and be bad for consumers: “For those who are unable to win Google’s favour or those seeking to enter internet commerce, Google’s practices present a barrier to entry and an obstacle to competing on the merits.”
Meanwhile FairSearch has announced new members to the coalition including New York-based advertising agency adMarketplace, Paris-based shopping site Twenga, California-based ShopCity.com and the Interactive Travel Services Association (ITSA).
Joseph Rubin, president of ITSA, said: “We believe that Google uses its monopoly power to distort the marketplace by steering consumers away from the natural search results available for travel online.
“Further, the online travel companies are required to provide various consumer disclosures with their listings. Our members think consumers deserve the protection of those disclosures that we provide, and that Google Flight Search in many cases does not.”