Google Takes Off

Patience has paid off for Google (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) . Three months ago, Bloomberg reported that the world's leading search engine was in talks to acquire travel data specialist ITA Software in a $1 billion deal. The deal's official now -- but the price tag fell to $700 million in cash.

Google wasn't just waiting for a good deal. It hasn't made much of a splash in the travel space thus far, but its stance likely changed when Microsoft's (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) Bing launched last year, with a popular comparison-shopping engine for airline flights.

Who powers Bing's airfare platform? ITA, of course. The company also organizes flight information for Kayak, Orbitz Worldwide (NYSE: OWW  ) , and Expedia's (Nasdaq: EXPE  ) TripAdvisor. It's also the booking-engine backbone of several stand-alone carriers, including Southwest (NYSE: LUV  ) and AMR (NYSE: AMR  ) .

Investors should have two questions on their minds now:

  • Will this deal clear regulatory hurdles?
  • How will it affect key travel sites?

Google is already proactively championing the benefits of the deal. "Because Google doesn't currently compete against ITA Software, the deal will not change existing market shares," the company explains on its site.

In other words, Google will simply be inheriting ITA's popular QPX platform, which presently competes with others. It's actually a blessing that Google has largely avoided this market, since antitrust watchdogs won't have much to sniff at.

However, this doesn't mean that the market is treating this deal as a non-event. Shares of priceline.com (Nasdaq: PCLN  ) fell in after-hours trading on last night's news. If Google begins to steer airfare search queries to preferred ITA customers, it could send ripples through the industry.

The flipside of that scenario: Google's ownership may frighten off some ITA accounts. I'd be surprised to find Microsoft still leaning on ITA if this deal goes through.

Welcome aboard, Google, and fasten those seatbelts. Between concerned regulators and nervous competitors, this could be a bumpy flight.

Microsoft is a Motley Fool Inside Value pick. Google is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers choice. Southwest Airlines and priceline.com are Motley Fool Stock Advisor selections. Motley Fool Options has recommended a diagonal call position on Microsoft. The Fool owns shares of Google. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz loves to travel … usually when there aren't so many people in front of him at the airport. He does not own shares in any of the companies in this story. He is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool has a disclosure policy.


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