It's official. At least for now, American Airlines' fares and any links to same have been completely removed from Expedia.com. That means you'll no longer find AA's fares compared on Expedia or Orbitz (American removed fares from Orbitz in December). AA's fares have also been removed from Expedia-owned Hotwire.com, but not on Orbitz-owned Cheaptickets.com. But you can still find them on Expedia-owned TripAdvisor.com/Flights, which is a so-called "meta search" engine, at least for now, and on meta-search sites Kayak and Bing.com/travel, and online travel agency Travelocity. Confused yet?
Previously, Expedia reduced the visibility of AA's fares, but they were still bookable with an extra mouse click. Here's the official statement from Expedia:
"We have been unable to reach an agreement with American Airlines due to American Airlines’ new commercial strategy that we believe is anti-consumer and anti-choice. American Airlines is attempting to introduce a new direct connect model that will result in higher costs and reduced transparency for consumers, making it difficult to compare American Airlines' ticket prices and options with offerings by other airlines. American Airlines’ direct connect model is of questionable, if any, benefit to travelers, would be costly to build and maintain and would compromise travel agents’ ability to provide travelers with the best selection.
"As a result, the sale of American Airlines flights on our website has been suspended. We remain open to doing business with American Airlines on terms that are satisfactory to Expedia and do not compromise our ability to provide consumers with the products and services they need.
"We cannot support efforts that we believe are fundamentally bad for travelers. With or without American Airlines’ inventory, we have a robust supply base and broad array of choices for our customers and we continue to offer hundreds of flight options for the routes served by American Airlines."
Some industry observers believe that American will eventually reach some sort of consensus with these two large online travel agencies, but others see American following Southwest's model, showing and selling its fares only on its own web site. Only time will tell. In our humble opinion, all airlines should make their fares easy to compare side-by-side on third-party booking sites.
What isn't clear to us is why American targeted Orbitz first, other than because its contract with Orbitz was up for renewal. So it remains to be seen whether or not American will move against all online travel agencies and meta search sites. American had a dispute with Kayak in August, 2008, but eventually settled it; and Southwest has also had a tussle with Kayak when the meta search site attempted to show Southwest's fares. Kayak backed down.
Some consumers who are loyal only to American may not really care, but others who are looking only for the lowest fare will be harmed by this latest kerfuffle. As we've stated before, with so many airlines selling their lowest fares one-way for half the lowest round-trip fare, it's often cheaper to fly out on one airline and back on another. Airline web sites such as aa.com typically don't show multi-airline itineraries. And online travel agencies sometimes show hotel + air packages that are the same price or even less than airfare alone, especially on last minute trips.
So what's this all about? It's all about money, of course. AA wants consumers searching through third parties to be sent directly to aa.com only, where they can sell seat upgrades, insurance products, packages, hotel reservations, and much else. And AA doesn't want to pay fees to third parties that send traffic to aa.com. So you'll notice that on Kayak.com, if you search for a flight from New York JFK to, say, Los Angeles, that American's fares link only to aa.com, but Virgin America's fares link to Virginamerica.com plus Orbitz and Cheaptickets.