Google Flights Ends Charges For Airline Booking, Referral Links

Google plans to change the way it generates revenue from its Flights price-comparison search engine. The company said that beginning this month, it will no longer charge airlines for referral links that serve up in this feature.  

“The results within Google Flights will continue to be ranked by relevance to the user, based on factors like price and convenience,” a Google spokesperson wrote in an email to Search Marketing Daily.

The plan is to introduce new ad formats in Google Flights that offer airline and travel partners other options for promoting their fares, the Google spokesperson explains.

Google said it will continue to base results on relevance to the person searching. Algorithmic ranking of flight options in Google Flights and Flights on Google Search will not change when searching for factors such as price and convenience.

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Eliminating charges for referral links means that Google will remove the Ads label from the Google Flights booking links section. A similar change is being made for the Flights units on Google Search.

Since Google will not receive compensation for clicks through to flight providers via booking links, the Flights unit on Search will no longer carry the Sponsored label and will rank in organic listings based on relevance to the query. 

Google historically labeled booking links on Google Flights as Ads and the Flights ad units on Search as Sponsored because some -- but not all -- partners were paying Google for booking referrals.

Google received criticism in recent years for giving preference to its own travel products, wrote travel media outlet Skift, which broke the news. The changes mean “a free airline link from Delta or online travel agency or metasearch link from Expedia or Kayak could appear higher than Google’s boxed flight module in Google Search, depending on the relevancy and convenience to the user.”

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