Google is changing how it generates revenue through its flight price-comparison search engine, which may impact how trip-takers plan their vacations as well as how travel agencies and airlines do business, according to a Wednesday report from Skift.
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“Beginning this month, we will no longer charge partners for referral links on Google Flights,” a Google spokesperson told the publication. “The results within Google Flights will continue to be ranked by relevance to the user, based on factors like price and convenience.”
In other words, users will be able to find flight deals that are aligned closer to their search queries. If a person includes a specific airline in their search, they will more than likely be able to see that airline at the top of their screen instead of the sponsored Google Flights module, which prioritized paid partners prior to the announcement.
Now that Google has done away with referral link charges for airlines, companies that were utilizing free listings in the first place may be less likely to end up at the bottom of the page. However, it has yet to be seen whether this update will actually level the playing field. A Google spokesperson told FOX Business that changes will be reflected on the search engine's user interface by mid-February.
The tech giant will also explore and introduce new ad formats for its partners at some point throughout the year, though the timing of the rollout has yet to be determined at the time of publication.
In addition to removing sponsored labels within the Google Flights module and metasearch feature, the search engine is eliminating travel agency ads that don’t include prices because the lack of transparency is not helpful for most users.
Skift cited its previous reports that were critical of Google’s preference for its own travel products. The publication also suggested that the tech company’s monetization update may be related to U.S. government agencies questioning its competitive practices.
Information on how much Google Flights generates is scarce, however, Google's parent company, Alphabet, generated $40.5 billion in the third quarter of 2019. During an earnings call in October, Alphabet and Google CEO Sundar Pichai said, “New tools that will allow users to see all of their flight and hotel reservations in one place.”
This article has been updated to reflect that Google hasn't determined when it will introduce new ad formats.