Google will pull its QPX Express API in April 2018, cutting off its airfare feed

Ingrid Lunden
As Google gradually builds out its footprint in travel search, the company is also making a move to cut off its role as a data provider to would-be competitors.

As Google gradually builds out its footprint in travel search, the company is also making a move to cut off its role as a data provider to would-be competitors.

The company has quietly announced that in April of next year, it will shut down its QPX Express API, an airfare search feed, which it had picked up originally as part of its $700 million acquisition of ITA in 2010/2011. (For a blast from the past, read the original announcement of that deal from then-Google search VP Marissa Mayer.)

Google revealed its plans to close the service in an update to the frequently asked questions about the API. It also sent a note to API users (published on HackerNews). The final shut down will take place on April 10, 2018. Between now and then, it will not take on new users, and existing users will get a reduced rate on any API calls. The usage fee will now be $0.02 per query, down from $0.035, after the first 50 queries, which are free.

Google is also shutting down at least one other flight-related service alongside this. OnTheFly, ITA's mobile flight-search app, will stop to work after December 2017, Google said, suggesting that users instead either use Google Flights or Matrix, ITA's legacy flight search page that still seems to be going.

The QPX Express API closure should not come as a surprise for a few reasons. For one, it's not unusual for Google (and others) to shut down services, and APIs that third-party developers depend on are certainly not spared in Google's regular spring cleaning exercises.

It's not clear is how many active users this particular API has currently, or what revenues Google made from the deal, or the reason for the decision. (We've contacted Google with questions and will update as and when we hear more.)

One guesstimate from back in 2011 was that the QPX business had annual revenues of between $200 million and $250 million, more than Kayak at the time.

Customers of QPX have included a lot of household names, who would have used the search service and connected it with a separate purchasing platform. Bing TravelCape AirCheapTicketsKayak.comOrbitz, AlitaliaAmericanANAUnited AirlinesUS Airways, and Virgin Atlantic have all been named as customers. 

A lack of use -- often one of the rationales for pulling a service -- might not have been the overriding (or only) reason for the QPX API closure, in any case. As part of its regulatory clearance to buy ITA, Google was required to provide third-party access to the software and data for at least five years from the time that the deal closed. That happened on April 12, 2011, so we're past the final boarding call, so to speak.

Interestingly, it seems that competitors were okay with Google's ITA acquisition at the time it was announced, in part because they seemed to think that Google would be subject to closer regulatory scrutiny as a result (hah). We've reached out to Fairsearch, one of the more vocal groups opposing Google in vertical search, to get a reaction to this latest news and will update this story as and when we hear back.

At the time, Google itself noted that it didn't compete against ITA users, so it, too, wanted to keep working with them:

"Because Google doesn’t currently compete against ITA Software, the deal will not change existing market shares," the company noted in a statement at the time. "We are very excited about ITA Software’s QPX business, and we’re looking forward to working with current and future customers. Google will honor all existing agreements, and we’re also enthusiastic about adding new partners."

That, of course, has changed.

For those who are affected by the news, Google isn't providing suggestions of alternatives, but some of the other services that provide API access include Fareportal, Skyscanner, Skypicker, and as one developer notes, IATA appears to also be building something.

More generally, Google appears to be focused these days less on travel tools for developers and more on travel tools for consumers, and perhaps related to that how it can grow its audience to build out ad products around it.

In one of its latest moves, Google ran a test this summer to see if it could take on Airbnb with a vacation rental booking service, aggregating listings from other sites like Booking.com.