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.