Have You Heard of Google Flights?

Shaz Memon
Creative Director & Designer
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Sometimes it seems like Google releases a new product every day, and it’s easy to miss one in the shuffle. Sometimes it’s even easy to miss a game-changing new service like Google Flights. Flights is Google’s entry into the travel market, and the ways in which the tech giant applies their search engine wizardry to the real world make it unique. Both travelers and travel industry businesses operators can learn a great deal from Google Flights.

How Google Flights Works

Google Flights was launched in 2011 after Google’s acquisition of ITA Software LLC. ITA is notable as the originator of the airfare search system QPX, which is used by a wide range of travel businesses. Companies like Orbitz and Kayak use QPX as the back end of their flight booking services. Some airlines use it as well, to facilitate searches for airfares.

The way Google Flights implements the technology is a bit different, though. In most applications of QPX, the user starts by selecting their desired destination and the intended travel dates. For example, one might go to Orbitz hoping to find the cheapest airfare to London on April 7th. The other services work much the same, asking the user to enter the date and destination.

In reality though, there is no technical reason for the software to require this, and Google Flights takes the innovative step of removing that restriction.

Google Flights, under the heading “Discover Destinations”, allows travel shoppers to browse destinations as though they were products on an online store. Using tags like “Culture” or “Food” or “Ecotourism”, and narrowing the search down by general region and by travel dates (or not!) users can book their next vacation destination from the very logical starting point of having no idea where they want to go.

It’s a simple tweak to the formula, but one that makes a great deal of difference in how travelers learn about possible destinations. It also affords some very clear marketing opportunities for travel based businesses. Google offers paid advertising within Flights search results, and it’s important to understand how to make the most of them.

Tips for Advertising with Google Flights

The primary buyers for Google Flights ads are airlines and their marketers. Effective advertising within Google Flights can make a big difference for smaller airlines, and it pays to research ahead of time and understand all the options. If used well, Google Flights advertising allows small carriers to compete with much larger, national companies in their niche markets.

That said, here are some tips for advertising with Google Flights.

Ensure Seat Availability is Synced – In order for their tickets to show in Google Flights listings, airlines must provide Google with live, updated flight availability information using Google’s API. This is crucial especially for smaller airlines, whose tickets may be less expensive than the larger carriers but who may get hung up on the technical hurdle of keeping Flights up to date.

Improve Click-Through with Clear Offers – Like other types of Google text advertising, the CTR of Google Flights paid ads relies in large part on the quality of their text. Advertisers should make sure that their differentiator, whether it be price, upgrade, or other features like free baggage checking, is prominent in the ad text. Improving the CTR will in turn improve the ad’s Quality Score and Ad Rank, making it more likely to be displayed.

Targeting by Route – Google Flights ads may be targeted on specific routes or searches, including trip length and destination. Ads may be customized for each search, and there are countless ways to take advantage of this. For example, shorter trips are often business related, while longer stays are generally leisure. The ad text can therefore be customized to target the business or vacation traveler, improving performance.

Flight Ad Bucketing – One of the advantages of Google Flights integration with airline flight availability is its capability to manage ad spending by flight capacity. An advertising budget on Google Flights can easily be set up to weight spending towards flights that have more empty seats, and to spend less on flights that are near capacity. This is an invaluable tool for maximizing the efficiency of an advertising budget, by spending more on advertising flights that actually have seats left to sell.


Although nearly five years old, Google Flights is still largely unknown to many marketers. The service is gaining traction with customers though as an alternative to services like Orbitz and Kayak, and it will only become more important as time goes on. It’s a well-known fact that once Google throws its weight behind a service, that service tends to rise to the top. It appears that Google has committed to making Flights a standard resource for travelers, and so it behooves airlines and their marketers to learn all they can about it, and fast.


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