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Ryanair has announced a deal with Google to make its flight information available on the search engine’s Flight Search tool.
The move represents something of a U-turn for the low-cost carrier, which had been a vocal opponent of flight comparison websites.
The deal means that, since yesterday, customers in Britain and several other countries (including France, Italy, Germany, Netherlands, USA and Canada) can compare Ryanair’s live prices with those of dozens of other airlines by visiting www.google.co.uk/flights . They are then redirected to Ryanair’s own website to complete their booking.
“If you need information, your first port of call is Google,” Michael O’Leary, Ryanair’s chief executive, told Telegraph Travel. “This will introduce more competition between price comparison websites, and could force other airlines to offer lower prices when people realise how significant the gap is between our fares and theirs.”
Mr O’Leary remained critical of unlicensed flight booking websites or “screen scrapers”, which he claims do not list the airline’s cheapest fares and add “hidden handling fees”. Such websites are responsible for “between 10 and 15 per cent” of bookings with Ryanair, he said.
A spokesman for Google, which launched its Flight Search in March last year, said it had been reticent to publicise the tool without Europe’s largest airline on board.
“Google Flight Search is still a new feature and we are still developing our partnerships and our coverage,” he said. “This announcement means we now have some of the cheapest airfares across Europe and we look forward to striking more airline deals in the future across different regions.” EasyJet is among those airlines that do not appear on Flight Search.
Donald Strachan, Telegraph Travel’s technology expert, said that Google Flight Search, while boasting some eye-catching features, does not yet match its flight comparison rivals when it comes to finding the best price.
“Getting a flight engine up and running is about the tech; Google is very good at that, we know,” he said. “But it’s also about the partnerships, which gets you access to more and more flight data, and companies like Kayak, Momondo, and Skyscanner all have a few years’ jump on Google with that side of the business. Google Flight Search has been available in the UK less than a year.
“The Ryanair deal fixes that problem for significant chunks of Europe, but right now Google can’t match the established players to many destinations. I would also add that the user experience of Google Flight Search is no match for Momondo.”
Since late last year Ryanair has made a number of changes aimed at improving its image, and attracting new customers. Mr O’Leary yesterday conceded that the airline had “alienated” some fliers, particularly families.
Among those changes is the introduction of allocated seating, effective from February 1. This will bring it in line with low-cost rival EasyJet and aims to eliminate the pre-flight queues that form as members of the same travelling party try to secure seats beside one another.
Since December passengers have been allowed to take a second “small ladies handbag or [a] small airport shopping bag” on board, along with their regular carry-on luggage, while the introduction of a 24-hour post-booking “grace period” has allowed passengers to fix minor errors, such as spelling mistakes for free, avoiding the usual £70 per person charge.
Ryanair has also redesigned its website, simplifying the booking process, and plans to launch its own “Fare Finder” tool, as well as a new app. Mobile boarding passes will also be introduced in April.
It is also trebling its annual outlay on marketing, with plans for a television advertising campaign later this year.
Discussing the overhaul, Michael O’Leary said: “Forward bookings are very strong but it’s very hard to pinpoint whether [the changes] are responsible.
“The baggage policy has taken away a whole barrier of hostility and I expect the allocated seating policy will be very well received – it had clearly become a major stress point for our passengers.” He rejected suggestions that allocated seating would lead to a slower boarding process and subsequent delays.