Why Bargain Travel Sites May No Longer Be Bargains – Backchannel

Aggregators like Expedia have made us lazy — and we may be missing out on the best deals.

Last August, Andrea Giacobbe logged on to Skyscanner, a European metasearch engine like Expedia and Travelocity that scans multiple travel websites and surfaces the cheapest fare. Giacobbe, a 52-year-old management consultant, was looking to book a flight from New York City to Genoa, Italy—a trip he’s made numerous times for family visits. He’d always relied on Skyscanner for a discount.

This time, the cheapest fare wasn’t that cheap: It was for an Alitalia flight that made two stops, through Milan and Rome, for $2,050. Surprised at the high quote, he decided to call Alitalia. Immediately, the airline offered a $1,550 flight with only one stop in Rome. It was cheaper. It would get there faster. They even offered him a discounted car rental.

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“It blew my mind,” recalled Giacobbe. He hadn’t called Alitalia directly in years. He was accustomed to almost always relying on Skyscanner for the best deal.

Giacobbe’s experience is becoming more typical. Over the past several years, the conventional wisdom has been that cruising the net would yield the best prices in the travel, hotel, and car rental spaces. There’s been a tidal shift in the travel industry, to a point where most of us use aggregators to book our trips. Who bothers talking to a human being—a travel agent? You’re just going to be stuck in a long option queue.

Most of us rely on metasearch engines, like Priceline, Expedia, or Travelocity, which typically use dozens (sometimes as many as 200) of online travel agents, called OTAs, and aggregators to find the best deals. (A metasearch engine and an aggregator are interchangeable terms — they both scour other sites and compile data under one roof. An OTA is an actual travel agency that actually does the booking and is the lone site responsible for everything you buy through them.) We rely on these sites…

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