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Step-by-step guide on how to build a travel search engine website

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Step-by-step guide on how to build a travel search engine website

Starting a travel search engine website is a different process for every startup depending on the business plans and goals. The general process includes designing the website and then choosing what type of integration to do, depending on budget, license or access and stage of development. The two main types of integration solutions are affiliate or API.

To earn on the flights, hotels, car rentals and other travel services join the Travelpayouts affiliate network for free today.


This article was prepared together with, an international travel website development company with over five years of experience. Travelerrr is servicing startups and travel organizations to cater to the specific needs of the client to advance their travel technology with competitive solutions. Travelpayouts affiliate network is not associated with Travelerrr and could not evaluate or score the Travelerrr services.

Trevelerrr shared expertise in travel search engines creation space and prepared a step-by-step breakdown on how to build your travel booking website.

Existing opportunities for creating a travel booking website

Direct database

  • Direct database is when you manually create your own travel database. This is usually done when the host is creating a website. For example, a hotel chain or a tour company that only wants to sell their own hotels or tours, or an airline that is selling their flight tickets direct to consumer. A direct booking portal can also be created if a company establishes contracts with host travel suppliers to manually list and upsell specific deals/products.

GDS integration is for OTAs

  • GDS integration is for OTAs (online travel agencies) to access full inventory of travel solutions to sell to their customers. GDS stands for the global distribution system that allows travel suppliers to distribute travel products, rates and relevant information for travel agents to sell. Some commonly known GDS providers are Amadeus, Sabre and Galileo, which is also known as TravelPort. GDS integration is only available for licensed travel agents that are ARC or BSP accredited. Once approved with the GDS, travel resellers have access to backend wholesale rates to buy services on customer’s behalf. When an agent wants to showcase the GDS database on their website, API integration is done.

Affiliate integration

  • Affiliate integration is for start-up travel resellers who want to showcase a range of travel deals on their site to earn commission without having to be an agent. Affiliate is the easiest and most affordable solution, and is most often free to set up. Affiliate promoters share their booking commission with the affiliate company that is hosting the deals. It is a win-win partnership where the promoter gets access to promote travel services in return for shared commission. Affiliates often have creatives to promote such as text links, banner ads, widgets and white label search engines. The affiliates referral code is coded into the promotional creatives, so that when setup on a website, the affiliate earns commission when their visitors are referred by them.

API integration

  • API integration is more advanced than affiliate, because it takes more development time to setup and most travel companies do not allow their API to be used freely. A partner may need to be approved for API access before they can setup. The earning potential varies depending on which company’s API you are setting up. Once approved, you will require an API developer to install the API, which can often require ongoing technical support. API stands for a set of functions or procedures allowing the creation of applications that access the features or data of an operating system, application or other service. When relating to travel development, APIs are used to showcase another travel company’s inventory on your site, so that visitors can browse directly on the website and the deals can show in conjunction with other deals from other travel companies to create a comparison search engine. API is advanced integration and is not a quick setup process. It requires a properly trained developer to assist with setup. Learn more about Travelpayouts API in the knowledgebase.

A search engine website focused on travel is any website that provides customers with the ability to search for deals related to their travel inquiries. There are various types of travel sites including OTA (online travel agencies) and meta search (aggregator search engine), along with direct booking airline, hotel and tour websites to book directly from the hosts.

The approach you take to the development project depends on what type of travel website you are looking to build for your business. If you do not have web experience, projects both large and small require a development team or developer to manage the travel web design and set up the on-site deals and database. It is recommended to work with development providers who specialize in the travel industry to get the best solutions for your requirements and to save time and money in the process.

The web platform that the site is developed on can differ based on project requirements including PHP and WordPress, as some of the most well known. PHP is more suitable for custom projects that require a custom-made admin. WordPress is more common and suitable for start-up websites that can operate using the dashboard provided with WordPress admin, which includes blogging capabilities and plugins.


Plugins are add ons that can be added to websites for additional features that don’t require custom coding. The benefit of using plugins is that you can save time and money in the development phase by using third party solutions rather than creating features uniquely for your site, which can be time extensive and costly. Travelpayouts offers an automated travel booking plugin for WordPress to build your site.

Once you have determined which platform the site should be built on, the next step is discussing your preferred design and appearance of the website. Usually, the developer or designer will request reference sites to be sent to them to give them an idea of what look and feel you want your website to have. Modern websites such as Trivago and Kayak have a very simplistic homepage, which has become popular. They also display the travel search engine immediately, which directs visitors to input their travel details and instantly start searching for deals.

Existing opportunities for creating a travel booking website

The design is an important factor in the process of building your travel search engine website, as it is what initially will separate you from your competitors. When a visitor first arrives at your website, they should feel like they are in good hands with a professional design that is captivating and will make the customer want to stay as well as be directed to do something. This is a called a “call to action” and is what makes the visitor interact with the website. The appearance of the travel page will influence the bounce rate and initial interest in your business.

Integrating travel deals onto your website is done in various ways including direct database and GDS (global distribution system), along with affiliate and/or API.

What is the best solution?

The best solution for your integration depends on your budget and the type of travel company you are creating.

  • Affiliate is the easiest and the lowest cost option. White label affiliate is very competitive, and providers such as Travelpayouts and SkyScanner offer this.
  • API is the best option for comparison sites, but requires approved access and a time consuming setup process with specialized developer.
  • GDS would be best for classical travel agents who are working offline and looking to access full inventory.
  • Direct booking is best for businesses that have already established their services and sell directly to consumers or resellers who are willing and able to create relationships and contracts to resell.

If you are looking to build a travel affiliate-based search engine website, here is a five point step-by-step process on how to go about it.

How to build a travel affiliate-based search engine website

  • Step 1 – Create a website plan. Budget accordingly and purchase your domain and hosting if required. Register your name at any registrar like GoDaddy.
  • Step 2 – Design your web page. While determining the design of your site, you can use ThemeForest to gain inspiration and ideas with thousands of pre-made themes.
  • Step 3 – Build your website for free on WordPress. If you do not have experience with developing, you can hire a travel affiliate web developer who has expertise in the area, like TravSell.
  • Step 4 – Research and sign up with travel affiliate partners. Gain access to text links, banners, widgets and white label search engine codes.
  • Step 5 – Integrate travel search engines and/or affiliate codes. Set up travel deals on your website according to your preferred method.

If you use Travelpayouts, login to your dashboard to access the integration solutions available to use. They are all available in the tools section:

How to build a travel affiliate-based search engine website

Commission can be tracked from your dashboard as well, which will show confirmed bookings and commission.

You have three main options on how to integrate Travelpayouts flight and hotel metasearch:

  • Use a widget and send traffic to JetRadar/Hotellook or to your White Label project
  • Build a White Label project
  • Build a stand-alone meta-search based on API.

You could add a simple search-form widget as an another option, such as “Search form widget.”:

Implementation is quite easy. Just copy the code of widget to your page:

Widget popular routes

This code has to be embedded to your website where you want to show the form:

Place the code

If you do not want to send traffic to JetRadar or Hotellook, and want to keep it on your own webpage, you have to create White Labels. Create two white labels for flights and hotels respectively. You can integrate the logo and navigation of your main website on the white labels. Here, you will find the guide on how to set a White Label on your project.

For those who need more flexibility, there’s API. You could use it, for example, to offer something for the user based on his location using Travelpayouts Data API. You can also use API to show the popular directions from the user’s city.

Mobile solutions

To create a custom app, you would require API access, because APIs can also be integrated on a mobile application as well as on a website.

For affiliates who are looking for a quicker and easier setup solution, SDK is available. It is a framework which allows integrating a flight and hotel search engine into your app without custom coding. SDK is described in the knowledgebase.

You could also make a White Label app, which is currently only available for iOS. You can learn about these options from this Travelpayouts webinar:

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Do I need special website hosting to run a travel search engine?

No, you can use basic website hosting offered from most hosting companies that allow cPanel access, so you can update cNames in the DNS for white labels.

What are the other costs involved?

Costs may include designers, developers and marketing expenses. Marketing is an ongoing expense, whereas development costs are usually a one-time setup fee.

How much money can I earn as a travel affiliate?

The affiliate partner you work with determines the commission earned on bookings. There are two types of affiliates, including Pay Per Click and Pay Per Sale. Read the affiliate programs FAQ and commission page to find out the exact commission details. With Travelpayouts, you will earn 1-10% from the total price of the travel service that is sold thanks to you. The Travelpayouts commission policy is described there.

To earn more with Travelpayouts, download this ultimate guide:

7 ways to jumpstart with Travelpayouts

What is the best way to market my website?

There is no universal technique that is best and works every time. To start, you could choose a specific niche and/or location to separate yourself from competitors. Then, dominate your market with an aggressive search engine and social promotions using Google and Facebook. Follow the Travelpayouts blog to stay informed about the best ways to market your site.

Can I change my integration type after setup?

Yes, you can continue to modify your website with further development support from your developer or team. It may require extensive changes to your business model. Once a site is aged with traffic and bookings, the travel reseller has more income partnership opportunities.

Aside from all the options, API is the most flexible solution. It gives you unlimited freedom to develop your own travel website.

What else should I know?

Consistency is key when growing any business. It takes time and effort to establish a loyal customer base, but the travel industry is constantly growing and changing with new opportunities. Make your business unique to stand out and don’t be afraid to try new things.

Start your online custom travel website with Travelerrr. Watch video to learn more:

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