Google announced it will shut Book on Google for flights for users outside the U.S. at the end of September, and told Skift it will likewise end the feature in the U.S. sometime after March 31.
It turns out, a declining number of users were booking their flights on Google, which acknowledged that travelers would rather book their flights with online travel agencies or directly with airlines.
To be clear, Google Flights is not shutting down, but will continue to enable travelers to click on airline and online travel agency links to book their flights, as they have done for years for the vast majority of flights. What changes is that Google will no longer take a small share of bookings on Google channels, but will refer all users to partners for bookings.
Eliminating the feature likewise doesn’t hurt Google’s case to beat back regulatory efforts to diminish its power on antitrust grounds.
With the Book on Google feature for flights, travelers can book on Google, but Google was just facilitating the booking for that airline or online travel agency, and the latter provided the customer service function. Google wasn’t charging airlines for the feature.
“Over the next 12 months, we plan to phase out the Book on Google feature for Flights,” Google stated. “We originally offered this functionality to give people a simpler way to buy their tickets and to help our partner airlines and OTAs receive more bookings. However, we’ve found over time that people actually want to book directly on partner websites, and we always strive to meet user preferences whenever possible.”
Some pundits saw Book on Google as the company creeping toward becoming an online travel agency, but that never appeared to be the intent. Google makes too much money on travel advertising to want to directly compete with its biggest partners. Google also has no interest in dealing with flight changes and cancellations, or in providing customer service to stranded travelers.
Google ended Book on Google for hotels earlier in 2022.
Google launched Book on Google in 2015 as a way to facilitate bookings for airlines and online travel agencies in an era when many of their mobile websites weren’t particularly sophisticated.
But partners’ mobile capabilities have improved in the interim, and Google said it saw a declining share of flight bookings coming from the Book on Google feature.
Many metasearch sites over the years have tried these types of facilitated bookings for partner airlines and hotels, but with a few exceptions, such as HomeToGo in Germany, this type of feature has been waning for years.