Which Airline is Strongest at Harnessing the Google Flights Surge?

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The first two quarters of 2017 saw consumers using Google Flights to find fares at a much higher rate than over the same time period in 2016. Analysis of Jumpshot data showed a very strong first quarter for the tool, with 27 percent growth in unique visitors to the service compared to 2016. That slipped after Q2, but the traffic still marked a 17 percent increase year-over-year.


Top Airlines on Google Flights by Referral

The rise in traffic brought with it marked increases in referrals to airlines as well, with 68 and 69 percent increases in referral traffic to the top nine airline sites in Q1 and Q2, respectively. But it was the four biggest airlines in the US–American, Delta, Southwest, and United–who captured nearly three quarters of all referral traffic from Google Flights in the first two quarters.

American received 24 percent of referrals on its own in the first quarter before ceding ground to United, who took 20 percent more referrals in Q2. Delta and United were the only two airlines who continued to gain referrals coming out of Q1, as most referral traffic for the top airlines leveled off or declined with the total unique visitors.


Year-over-year growth for referrals from Google Flights was notably strong for nearly all the top 9 airlines. Alaska Air has seen the biggest YoY growth in referrals from Google Flights (129% YoY growth in Q1 and 127% in Q2)

Q1 YoYQ2 YoY

Top Airlines on Google Flights by Conversion

Once consumers arrive at airline sites, referral traffic from Google Flights shows robust conversion numbers for most carriers. The top nine airlines convert more than a quarter of all referrals from Google sites, on average. And this year conversion rates have increased 4 percent, on average, when measured quarter-over-quarter.


Conversion Rates from Google Flights
DomainQ1Q2QOQ Change


American, United, and Delta are even more dominant in total conversion market share than they are in the share of referrals, together taking 70 percent of all conversions among top sites from Google Flights traffic. Southwest struggles to convert Google flight referral traffic, though. Though they took a healthy 8 percent of all referral traffic, just 2 percent of all conversions in the first half of the year were captured by the low-cost carrier (more on this below).

Google rolled out new features for Flights starting in late 2016 aimed at helping consumers, including price-change information, calendar views of fares, and a notification bar offering tips on picking the best route through alternate dates or airports. Skift has argued that increases in traffic were driven in part by an aggressive move to take a search with an airline’s name included and offer a Google Flights box at the top of the results.

Thus, airlines that don’t make an effort to put their every piece of information on the tool will suffer in gaining conversions from Google Flights. Southwest, for example, shows a huge anomaly in their conversion rates compared to the rest of the field. Though their referral traffic numbers are in line with the rest of the field, their conversion rates trail the rest of the market at under 10 percent. Southwest is the only major domestic airline that doesn’t provide a price point within the Google Flights UI, so consumers are less likely to see the lower price point that the carrier uses to beat the competition.

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