Upgrade: Travel Better details the way that Orbitz requires rental car companies to pay for site placement. Vanguard which owns National and Alamo wouldn’t pay a lump sum and higher commissions than their current contract required, so their results were given a lower priority than competing companies. Vanguard sued, but the suit was thrown out.
Consumers need to understand that travel booking sites aren’t necessarily providing unbiased information. Beyond that I don’t have a problem with arrangements like this, even though I understand that consumers do assume that the booking engine is unbiased. Starwood defaults its rate display based on its ‘recommended’ rates. Expedia pushes its own ‘special rates’ (negotiated deals with a higher margin).
This is hardly new ground. I recall that when American Airlines owned Sabre they privileged their own flights over those of their competitors. In that case there was a legal issue involving anti-trust law which doesn’t exist in the Orbitz case.
As always, check out multiple sites to compare information rather than assuming a single site is providing all the needed information to make the best possible decision.