Google will buy ITA - but what does it mean for travelers?

Google is to purchase flight information firm ITA, the search giant announced July 1, in a deal that has the potential to transform how we search for flights online.

ITA provides flight pricing and organisation services to airlines and websites around the world, including big names such as TripAdvisor, Bing, Hotwire, Orbitz, Continental, American Airlines and Alitalia.

The deal, worth $700 million (€560.4 million), will see Google integrate the information provided by ITA into its business, turning the already-ubiquitous company into a force to be reckoned with in the travel world.

Google has promised that its acquisition of ITA will "create a new, easier way for users to find better flight information online, which should encourage more users to make their flight purchases online."

Potentially this means integrating flight options into search results, in effect turning Google into a competitor of metasearch websites such as Kayak and Cheapflights.com, although the company has been vague on exactly what form it expects its new offering to take.

The deal could mean that traditional bricks-and-mortar flight booking outlets, who have already suffered at the hands of online booking sites, take another hit as Google makes it even easier to buy online.

The firm has been clear that it intends to use the information provided by ITA to innovate rather than sell tickets, with company executives saying that new flight search tools such as flight tracking and flight option comparisons were in the works.

Another idea outlined by the company's Marissa Meyer suggests that users may be able to query where they could fly to within, for example, seven hours for a given fare, giving customers more distance for their money.

Although US regulatory authorities are likely to look carefully at the deal to ensure that it is fair to competitors and therefore consumers, Google says that it is keen to preserve competition in the online travel space and that it has no interest in locking out competitors, setting airfare prices or changing market shares.

With Google boss Eric Schmidt saying that the company is working on flight tools unlike anything on the market today, it looks like travelers won't have to wait long to see how the search giant intends to change the way they travel.

http://www.google.com/press/ita

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