Mark Orwoll
September 14, 2011


No sooner did Google unveil Flights, its new airfare search tool, on Tuesday than the criticism began to fly—not least from key competitor Kayak. But let's let's let Robert Birge, Kayak's chief marketing officer, speak for himself.

"We recognize Google is a formidable competitor, but they haven't been successful in every vertical they've entered," Birge said in a statement that went on to laud Kayak's own attributes.

I got the statement in an unusual email today from the Kayak's P.R. rep, who suggested that Google Flights doesn't work for international destinations; has no regional airports; and has questionable accuracy when it comes to actual airfares. I noted some of those things myself when I spent some time on the site this morning and Tweeted about it.

Almost immediately after getting the Kayak email I received an email from the P.R. rep for, another airfare comparison site, with a fairly snide quote from the general manager, Warren Chang: "Google seems to be in everything but refrigerators these days," he said, then went on to extol his own product. The email also shot another zinger at Google for listing only airfares from airline websites, not online travel agencies like Orbitz and Expedia: "[Google's] lack of travel agents means users may not always get the best deals."

The controversy began last year after Google purchased ITA, a company whose airfare search software is widely used in the industry. Critics have complained that Google's purchase of ITA would allow them unfairly to dominate the airfare search industry. Expedia, Microsoft (owner of the Bing travel site), Kayak, and others who opposed the Google-ITA deal on antitrust grounds went so far as to create an anti-Google Flights website.

In an otherwise gentlemanly part of the travel world, the criticism against Google Flights seems almost strident. But for an even-handed consideration of the new search engine, have a look at a recent comparison in the New York Times between the new Google product and Kayak. The upshot according to the Times? Kayak is better—at least for now.

Smart Traveler Mark Orwoll is the International Editor of Travel + Leisure. Follow him on Twitter.





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