What the airline-online reservation war means

This is the kind of thing that could put travel agents back in business. Airlines are getting tough with online ticket booking sites. They’re the sites who saved travelers money by allowing people to comparison shop for airfares. Who needed travel agents?

Expedia has stopped selling American Airlines tickets after American stopped selling on Orbitz. The airline wants people to go to its Web site, instead.

Might this cost you money? Maybe. Consider this: If you wanted to book a flight to Chicago and went to the American Airlines Web site, a Monday flight later this month (and a return flight a week later) would cost you $353. Booked via Expedia, many flights on United pop up with a round trip price of $139.40. Ouch.

Delta is doing the same, though with smaller sites. Delta stopped allowing three websites — CheapOAir.com, OneTravel.com, and BookIt.com — to list its flights.

If you’ve got the time to check every possible site, you’ll probably be able to find the cheapest fare. Prism Money, the personal finance column, recommends this:

>>Check the sites that follow the other sites. Start a search with Kayak and Sidestep.com, both of which monitor several other airline ticket websites, and see what turns up.

>> Surf to individual airline sites for quotes, once you’ve seen the best that the aggregators and online agents are offering.

>> Call the airline of your choice and ask them what extra fees would apply before you buy your ticket. Factor that into your decision.

>> Join all the frequent flyer programs and email lists that you can, even if you’re not really a frequent flyer. It’s typically free to join. Airlines trying to gain tighter control of their customer relationships may start offering deals directly to consumers who are already on their list.

  • nicki

    Let’s not forget that purchasing the ticket is really only the beginning of the adventure. My frequent-flier husband had the pleasure of an intimate experience with TSA just yesterday, followed by the loss of his luggage.

  • John P.

    The race to offer the cheapest airfare has led to passenger overcrowding and airlines trying nickel and dime you to death. It would actually be a good thing if prices rose and airlines started to compete on service instead of purely price. I am old enough to remember when air travel was a pleasure, and I miss it.

  • vjacobsen

    But don’t forget that airlines are PROFITABLE again, which means they’re not doing these things for survival anymore–they’re doing it because they can.

  • http://www.thedeets.com Ed Kohler

    @John P, most airlines offer first class, but few people are willing to pay for it (the seats are often filled with free upgrades for frequent fliers like myself), which makes me think that we won’t be returning to higher prices for more service anytime soon.

    It’s worth bookmarking Southwest.com since Southwest doesn’t syndicate their inventory to any online travel sites. Their prices tend to be quite competitive, and they have no bag fees, so knock off $25 per bag each direction vs. most other carriers when comparing prices.