If Google buys ITA Software and cuts off ITA's contracts with travel metasearch and airline websites, will Expedia try to fill the void?
Kayak co-founder and CEO Steve Hafner says the metasearch company has been evaluating Expedia's Best Fare Search air search and pricing engine "and we like it. Plus, it seems to be cheaper than ITA's QPX."
The travel industry has been abuzz with rumors that Google will buy ITA, launch its own metasearch solution and possibly cut off ITA's powering of metasearch websites like Kayak and airline websites such as Continental and many more.
Suddenly, Expedia is talking about its decade-old Best Fare Search, which is the main airfare search and pricing engine for Expedia-branded websites in the U.S., Canada, the U.K., Germany, France and Italy, and the Expedia Affiliate Network.
TripAdvisor flight metasearch uses BFS, ITA and Amadeus [for international itineraries] for flight search, although Expedia isn't breaking down what differentiates the roles of BFS and ITA for TripAdvisor.
Glenn Wallace, Expedia's vice president of technology strategy, says BFS' capabilities are "somewhat equivalent to ITA."
Wallace says BFS became the first PC-farm-based airfare search and pricing engine in commercial use in April 2000, although ITA had a beta site at the time.
"We haven't shouted from the trees about it," says Wallace, referring to BFS.
Historically, Expedia's focus for BFS has been internally as an engine for its own websites, but Wallace says a lot of interest has been generated by the Google-ITA rumors.
He says BFS would be capable of powering airfare search and pricing on metasearch and airline websites, but there are no plans to unveil at this time.
Still, if Kayak is evaluating BFS, perhaps Expedia is testing the waters with other metasearch players and airlines, as well.
So, does BFS really have the capabilities of ITA's QPX?
And, if it did, why would TripAdvisor need to contract with both BFS and ITA?
This is what Hafner says about the two search engines.
"BFS is an awesome engine," Hafner says. "All faring engines must wrestle with comprehensiveness, speed, and accuracy. ITA's QPX is generally optimized for comprehensiveness and speed. BFS has been optimized for accuracy and speed (since Expedia was its only user).
"BFS also hadn't been "productized" - e.g. it didn't have a lot of ITA's bells and whistles, which allowed users to customize and tune the comprehensiveness, speed, and accuracy tradeoff," Hafner says.
Wallace concurs that BFS would have to be tweaked if it were to be marketed to airlines and metasearch players.
There are a lot of "ifs" involved in speculation about what Expedia might do with BFS.
The underlying assumption driving the speculation is that Google would buy ITA and so far there is no announced deal.
And, then if Google buys ITA, would it really be a smart move for Google to cut off all that revenue and erase all of ITA's metasearch and airline-website partnerships?
And, would airlines want to turn to Expedia -- a partner and a competitor -- to power flight search on airline websites when airlines are trying to beat down online travel agencies and drive supplier-direct traffic?
There are lots of questions waiting for the next shoe to drop.