Delta Tries To Get On Board Train Craze By Hijacking Google

With all the talk about trains in recent days, reader Zach decided to do some quick Googling to check out some train ticket prices. He typed in “cheap train tickets” and what do you know? Oh, hello Delta! We didn’t know you were in the train business now. Let’s click on your link on the small hope that maybe there’s a train ticket discount or some sort of…nope, same old Delta. Zach’s letter, inside…

I’m a regular reader, but this is the first time I’ve felt the need to write in. Not because I’m mad or need to vent about anything, but because I found something you guys might find as hilarious as i did… I noticed a couple of posts about trains today on the site, and as such I thought to myself, hey I wonder how much a train ticket to Tulsa, Ok is from here(where a good friend of mine lives). Now what makes this funny to me is the Google response to my entered text of …. “train tickets”

Now notice if you will the 1st sponsored link. CHEAP TRAIN TICKETS
and where does it take you, which even against my better judgment I clicked on. Thinking maybe they have a deal with Amtrak or something, and that I would be able to look at train schedules and such, but lo and behold my amazement when I realized this was in fact just Delta Airlines site, and had absolutely nothing to do with trains.
Thought you guys might enjoy that.

We tried these searches a few times and sometimes Delta appears at the top of the main results list, sometimes not. If it doesn’t appear on the main results area, it always appears at the top of the right margin under sponsored links (pictured above.) We’re not sure whether Delta is responsible for this misdirection or one of their affiliate advertisers, but either way it’s misleading to potential ticket buyers. Come on Google, will you do anything a company pays you to do? Ok, don’t answer that. Even though they rhyme, we know for a fact that trains and planes are different, don’t try to derail our logic.


Edit Your Comment

  1. Whitey Fisk says:

    Well, it’s like a big flying train.

  2. JustThatGuy3 says:

    Google will often sell banner ads linked to competitor keywords (i.e. sell DIRECTV an ad that comes up when someone googles Comcast, or sell Circuit City an ad when someone googles Best Buy).

  3. hobbesmaster says:

    You might be able to get a Continental ticket through Delta (Skyteam) that is actually a codeshare with Amtrak, Eurostar, SNCF or British Rail and maybe some other national rail lines. Many times if you book a flight from London to Paris or Brussels your airline will issue you a Eurostar ticket under a codeshare agreement.

    That doesn’t make it any less silly. It is just Delta’s advertising money down the drain, its not as if the real search results have Delta near the top…

  4. sleze69 says:

    Hank Reardon must have recently purchased Delta.

    BTW – The site no longer functions under Opera. When I click on a link, it goes to the tag level and not to the article. I hate using IE.

  5. onesong says:

    two things could be happening here:
    1) delta could be paying out the nose to bypass the quality score and is actually purchasing the keyword “train tickets,” or the more likely
    2) delta is advertising on the keyword “tickets” on broad match and this search, because it contained the word “tickets,” picked it up.

  6. Dustin says:

    Seems like less a misdirection and more lazy Pay Per Click marketing. Google allows you to dynamically enter text based on what the user searched. It works great when you offer exactly what the user is looking for, but results in wasted clicks when you don’t.

    I don’t really see anything “wrong” with Delta appearing in these results, but, still, they would have been more effective with a headline like “Cheaper than Train”.

  7. Grabraham says:

    No, I do not think they are advertising on the keyword “tickets” Delta does not pop in when you Google “Cheap movie tickets” or “cheap concert tickets” but does for ” cheap bus tickets” or “Cheap train tickets”. They are targeting those areas, makes sense for them.

  8. Hawkins says:

    Google calls these “adwords”. Google will allow you to buy any adwords you like, and then show your ad whenever anybody searches for that adword.

    It doesn’t need to make sense. You just need money.

    Try it yourself! Go to [] . Sign up so that whenever anybody Googles “marsupial porn,” they get an ad for your Abba shrine page.


  9. ElizabethD says:

    Google has jumped the shark.

  10. strathmeyer says:

    I hope Google doesn’t wonder why people pay no attention to their ads.

  11. sn1per420 says:

    I use firefox + adblock. I don’t see ads.

  12. andyj76 says:

    If Delta have tickets that are of a comparable price to train or bus tickets for a particular journey, then it pays them to advertise them to people who may not realise that the prices are comparable. (“Oh, I didn’t realise that it only costs $20 to fly instead of train”)
    If they’re not comparable, then people who click through are going to cost Delta money (pay-per-click) with little return (“I’m not paying that much!”).

    You pay your money, you take your chances..

  13. MyPetFly says:

    It’s too expensive to fly their aircraft these days, so they just chain a few together and run them on tracks. I read about it in the National Enquirer.

  14. kc2idf says:

    On a side note, last I checked, you can’t get to Tulsa by train (I have family there). This fact is truly sad, given that Tulsa’s physical layout (the streets run about 20° off of true north-south and east-west) is due to the fact that the railroad ran through there at that angle. Tulsa exists because of the railroad, and there is no rail service there any more.

    Yes, you can book a ticket to Tulsa through Amtrak, but the last leg of the trip involves taking a bus from KC.

  15. nedzeppelin says:

    neither is greyhound, yet surprisingly that first link to amtrak will sell you bus tickets.

    imagine my surprise when i had my ticket in hand, ready to go home for the weekend, when i get to the train station and realize my ticket tells me to wait outside somewhere.

    even better – it was the middle of chicago winter, it was about 0 degrees outside, and my bus that was supposed to come at 4pm never came. apparently they were never aware that this mythical bus didn’t exist. the next bus didn’t come either. finally i was able to board a bus at midnight – 8 hours in the freezing cold after my bus was supposed to depart – and i got home at 3 am, 11 hours for what should have been a 3 hour trip.

    the bus that finally did make it also died briefly at the very first stop light we came to.

    at least they fed us some crappy sandwiches to make up for it!! whoop de doo…

  16. gbeck says:

    Delta is advertising itself as an alternative to trains. Nothing wrong with that. It’s a form of comparative advertising that, if anything, is good for consumers.

  17. Hawk07 says:

    Rails? There are no rails where we’re going!

  18. LatherRinseRepeat says:

    Yeah, I think “hijacking Google” is incorrect. Delta simply bought some keywords.

  19. tptcat says:

    @JustThatGuy3: And how is this an example of that?

    @onesong: “or the more likely
    2) delta is advertising on the keyword “tickets” on broad match and this search, because it contained the word “tickets,” picked it up.”

    Since the words “Cheap Train Tickets” show as the heading for the ad, I think that means that Delta entered that themselves which means they would be attempting to come up for “train ticket” searches.

  20. bobfromboston says:

    Trains are competitors to airlines. They want you to consider flying rather than riding the train. Nothing sneaky or unethical about it. It’s called competition.

    Nothing to see here but another weak, quota-filling post by a Consumerist editor.

  21. Orv says:

    Why would you search for “cheap train tickets?” There is only one passenger railroad in the U.S. You might as well go straight to Amtrak’s site. You’re not going to find a cheaper competitor.

  22. HeartBurnKid says:

    @bobfromboston: Except for the fact that the link actually reads “Cheap Train Tickets”. That seems like more a bait-and-switch to me. I mean, imagine that I have a store and I put up a sign that says, “Tables for sale”, then you walk inside and I tell you that I don’t sell tables, but I have these lovely chairs… Yeah, that’s basically what Delta’s doing.

  23. coren says:

    @tptcat: This is clearly an example of a competitor buying up the keywords for advertising – I don’t see how you could call it anything else.

  24. witeowl says:

    @ElizabethD: The phrase “jumped the shark” jumped the shark ages ago.

    @nedzeppelin: Maybe, maybe not. You just have to pay attention. It’s clear to me when I play with the routes and schedules that they sometimes use “Thruway motorcoach” service which is clearly code for bus.

    Back to the OP: This sort of thing happens all the time. Type in “cheap movie tickets” and you get an ad for the coke rewards program. As has been pointed out, though, it might be a bit more on point for Delta to change the link name to “Cheaper Than Train Tickets”.

  25. BeulahAsterius says:

    Here’s my suggestion:
    CLICK CLICK CLICK! Delta pays for every click! GO GO GO!

  26. I ran some Central IL-to-Santa Fe numbers today; it takes us about 12 hours in cars and planes (if we can get the one no-layover flight) to get to Santa Fe from here; the Chicago-to-LA Southwest Flyer stops 45 minutes away and then is a 21-hour overnight train to just outside Santa Fe (and the overnight is in Kansas, so you get to be awake for the mountains and stuff).

    For a “roomette” for two, it runs $501 each way, or $1002 round trip. Plane tickets for the same time run $425 each round trip, or $850 total. But for the plane tickets, there’s a LOT more driving, plus car rental in ABQ, plus my husband doesn’t fit on the planes that fly ORD-ABQ, plus security theater.

    I was pleased to see the two come in pretty close, cost-wise (especially once car issues are factored in), and that while the time difference IS pretty large, that’s an absolutely exhausting and nerve-wracking 12 hours full of annoyances, while the 21 hours on the train would be sitting still, reading a book, and sleeping. I think we may try it next time we go.

  27. UnicornMaster says:

    What if everyone googled “Cheap Train Tickets” and clicked on that link? They’ve got to be paying a pretty penny for those keywords. Maybe they’ll learn a lesson.

  28. tptcat says:

    @coren: I don’t disagree that they are buying up advertising for the keywords “cheap train travel”. that is obvious. What I disagree with is that Amtrak could really be considered a legitimate competitor to Delta and vice versa.

  29. Dustin says:

    Two things would happen:
    1) They’d blow through their daily budget and would stop appearing.
    2) They wouldn’t be charged for the clicks, most likely. It’s called click fraud.

    Again, there’s nothing nefarious here, just laziness.

  30. bilge says:

    It’s a natural progression after Continental started codesharing with Amtrak.

  31. coren says:

    @tptcat: Why not? They’re both transportation options. If I have a couple tons of frozen goods I want to move, I can choose to fly them or put them in a refrigerated truck or on a refrigerated train (or on a boat). They’re all options I have, and all want my money. No different here.

  32. CyGuy says:

    Maybe they mean on the terminal shuttle train under the Atlanta airport?

  33. bwcbwc says:

    Train. Plane. Plain?

    Must be typo-squatting.

  34. Zatnikitelman says:

    Thought I’d say that I just confirmed it myself. Took two searches, but some funny stuff is going on. Trains should be embarassed and red-faced for attempting to be associated with something as messed up as our commercial airline system!

  35. bobfromboston says:

    @HeartBurnKid: Nice try, but a weak comparison. Planes and trains are both forms of transportation; you can (often) use either to get where you’re going.

    Tables and chairs cannot (reasonably) be used for the same purpose. (Although, if you’re searching for a table I see no problem with someone trying to sell you chairs as well.)

    Calling it bait and switch is a serious stretch.