It is know that most people look for the cheapest flight ticket to get to their destination. That is why websites like Expedia, Priceline and Orbitz sell you tickets from many airlines and the same reason aggregators like Kayak are so popular. But are you really getting the best price by using these sites?
Travel websites like Expedia get a commission which can be as high as 25% when they make a sale, which is a very big slice of the transaction. Airlines obviously don’t like paying such high commissions and they are getting smarter. Airlines are now offering lower pricing on tickets booked via their website vs. tickets book on sites like Expedia. Some airlines like SouthWest have since a long time stopped paying commission to travel websites and you cannot book tickets for them on websites like Expedia and Orbitz. Also some airlines are reducing the airline frequent flier miles they offer and charging more in fees if you don’t book a ticket via them.
So how do you get the best prices for your flight tickets?
Start with aggregator websites like Kayak: The best source to find the pricing is still aggregators like kayak. Also look at airline whose results are not included in search results (like Southwest and JetBlue).
Select the ones that fit your time and budget: Narrow down the flights as you would normally do. Select the top two to three flights that fit your criteria and note down the carrier and flight number
Jump over to the airlines website: Once you have the flight code and the timing details, go to the airline website and check the pricing for these flights to see if there is any difference in total cost.
Book the best price: If the airline offers a better rate or better perks for direct booking, then book with the airline; if not then book with the travel website
So what about travel websites?
Airline aggregators and travel websites serve a purpose for the consumers and help consumers select competitive prices but they also add to the cost. So if costs more to book a ticket from Expedia than say directly from US airways, in the long run how will the travel websites businesses survive?
The websites will have to evolve in one of the following ways:
Better level of service: If a consumer is paying more, then they would expect a better level of service. Some services that can be improved are cancellation and modification, concierge service for the duration of the trip, etc.
Package deals: The airlines can probably offer a better deal on the flight, but many people book package deals. Travel website can focus their business more on package deal, where they get a commission on all bookings and can pass some saving to the customer.
Free Travel Insurance: Travel insurance is generally not that expensive and is sold as an add on by travel website. Often the travel insurance cost is less than the commission travel agency will make on the ticket. So it makes perfect sense to add travel insurance for free with the ticket.
Hiding the name of the airlines: This would definitely be a defensive move but if airlines are offering a lower price directly, then they are not playing well with their affiliates. So travel websites in order to protect their business can hide the name of the airlines. They will protect majority of their customers from going to the airlines website.
Have you seen lower pricing on tickets sold by airlines vs. tickets sold through travel websites? How do you get best airfares?