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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.