Fee-free fracas starts at on-line booking sites

fees2.jpgFees fracas: there’s been a lot of chatter about fees that the airlines charge and how to calculate them. But that kafuffle overlooks the fact that some on-line travel sites charge you fees to make a booking, fees that get you the right to pay more fees to the airline. So with the slump in on-line bookings as the sagging economy takes its toll, does anyone online care? Well, yes. Expedia, the on-line travel agency, eliminated its booking fee for airline tickets sold by May 31, while Travelocity waited a few days and then matched them. They must be very nice people there…or perhaps this is just a recognition of the reality that most people use these sites as a reference, cruising through to find out what an airline is charging and then going to the airline website itself to save the booking fees. Tom Botts, a travel industry veteran who blogs at Hudson Crossing, says, “This is a seismic change for the on-line travel agency industry.”



It is probably a permanent change, Botts says, explaining, “Adding fees back in is hard – really hard.” But PhoCusWright’s Carroll Rheem takes it a step further: who is the winner? The real winner is going to be meta-search, the search engines that search many travel websites. They will become the real reference tools as people simply skip the booking sites, do a metasearch and then book with the airline. Dropping the booking fees is just an acknowledgement of the fact that behaviors have changed.

So who moves next? Watch Orbitz to crumble soon.


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