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Could Google take over online travel?

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By Christopher Elliott
If you haven't Googled a flight itinerary recently, you should try it.
Google's Flight Search, the fledgling search engine that lets you find a ticket and book it directly through an airline, is getting better. Much better.
In recent weeks, the new service has quietly expanded the number of U.S. cities it covers. It won't say how many destinations are being served, except that the number has doubled. Google also has integrated flight searches into its authoritative search results, making them easier to find and use.
When I wrote about Flight Search in the fall, it was widely regarded as a work in progress. But that work is progressing at a speedy clip.
Customers get to find cheap flights through its blazing-fast search engine.
For online travel agencies such as Expedia, Orbitz and Travelocity, no agreement has been reached.
Some think that the online agencies aren't a part of Google's business plan and will never be included. Buy a ticket through Flight Search, and you're taken straight to an airline website.
The problem isn't the Flight Search of today, an emerging competitor to the big three online agencies. It's what Flight Search could be in a year or two.
We live in a Google world. Google holds more than a 70 percent market share among online search engines. Gmail is one of the most popular email services and sites such as YouTube and AdSense don't have any meaningful competition.
To suggest that Google isn't in travel to do anything less than dominate in the same way would be naive.
It isn't difficult to imagine Google controlling most online travel purchases in the not-too-distant future. And until recently, I didn't have an issue with that; after all, if Google can offer cheaper tickets or better flight options by cutting out the middleman, who cares?
If Google takes over travel there could be serious and long-lasting consequences for an airline or hotel company that disagrees with the way Google prices its products when it holds a commanding market share.
"Consumers would pay higher prices for airfares and other products and services as a result of Google coming to dominate the onliine," said Ben Hammer, a spokesman for FairSearch, a coalition of travel companies that compete with Google.
Story tags » Air travelTechnology (general)

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