Transportation & Logistics

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Online Travel Sites Irked with Delta for Withholding Information

30 May, 2015

By: Tracey Schelmetic
Move May Be Part of Many Airlines’ Attempt to get Customers to Book Through Their Own Websites Instead

Wow. Just don’t get that roaming gnome mad at you.

The war for eyeballs on travel aggregators’ Web sites is white-hot, and these companies – Expedia, Travelocity, TripAdvisor, Orbitz and countless others – often rely on data from airlines to offer the widest variety of flights. Recently, however, Delta Airlines has chosen to cut back its participation and deny some travel sites and their users access to flight data. The airline recently removed schedule and fare information from more than a dozen flight aggregators’ Web sites

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Delta has removed its schedule and fare information from over a dozen Web sites, including TripAdvisor Inc., Hipmunk Inc. and CheapOair.com, saying it didn’t authorize the sites to use its data, according to a report to be released on Wednesday by the Travel Technology Association, a trade group for the sites. The move seems to be part of a greater trend: other airlines, including American Airlines and United, have taken steps to limit the amount of data available to travel sites and their customers.

“The spat marks the latest chapter in the struggle for control over airfare searches and seat purchases online,” wrote the Wall Street Journal’s Jack Nickas. “Carriers increasingly are pushing fliers to their own sites, partly to improve sales of add-on products such as extra legroom and frequent-flier points. And they have butted heads with the travel sites over booking fees. In a dust-up last August, American temporarily withdrew its flight information from sites operated by Orbitz Worldwide Inc.”

Representatives for the travel Web sites say it could signify a move by airlines to become more opaque about flight prices and availabilities as they prepare to raise costs for travelers and obfuscate the fact by disallowing side-by-side comparisons of fares. Some airlines, including Southwest, have chosen to entirely avoid partnering with travel Web sites.

Many travel cites note that airline seat sales are a small portion of what they do – discounted hotel rooms are really their biggest moneymakers – but that having the fare information available for shoppers to research is a draw to their Web sites.

The Travel Technology Association (known colloquially as Travel Tech) is taking on Delta on behalf of travel Web sites. The trade group recently issued a report that described how airlines blocking access to the data will hurt consumers.

“Yet, at a time when independent, transparent comparison shopping is most needed, some airlines are attempting to restrict access to their fare and schedule information, reduce the ability of consumers to easily compare prices, and drive travelers to their own websites, which do not offer price comparisons with other airlines,” wrote the report’s authors. “For the reasons set out in this report, this combination of airline concentration with heightened attempts to lead travelers away from OTAs and metasearch travel sites is likely to lead to higher average airfares, increase consumers’ search costs, make entry into city-pair routes by smaller airlines more difficult, reduce transparency, and strengthen the market power of the major airlines.”

For its part, Delta has issued a statement that it “reserves the right to determine who it does business with, and where and how its information is displayed.”

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