Half a dozen people have sent me articles about American’s flights no longer showing up on Orbitz. US Airways flights will be pulled from Orbitz on September 1.

American sent out a press release on this yesterday, but I didn’t write about it. It’s a temporary phenomenon, basically a contract dispute. It’s not the first time we’ve seen this, about four years ago American pulled its inventory from Orbitz. It’s about pricing and about selling ancillary products through online travel agencies.

Orbitz was started by a consortium of major airlines, but is no longer owned by them. The online travel agencies have considerable volume, Expedia is number one in the space. American can’t really afford to have their flights not appear as options in the major distribution sites where consumers buy tickets. But the agencies don’t want to have the world’s largest airline available through their portal when their competitors offer more comprehensive options. It’s a game of chicken over deal terms, one that will almost certainly be resolved.

And one in which I have absolutely no opinion on who is right or wrong here. I don’t like it but it’s not that big a deal.

I’ve long liked online travel agencies because of the possibility to earn miles or cash back through shopping portals, plus points in the online agency’s own program (before devalued theirs after devaluing theirs the very same year they launched it).

I still find them useful for:

  • Combining multiple airlines on a single ticket
  • Obtaining alternative pricing, since inventory may appear slightly differently in each computer reservation system
  • Fuel dumps

Booking through an online agency makes it easier to buy a ticket and then cancel within 24 hours, versus American’s policy of offering 24 hour holds prior to purchase.

On the other hand, it’s easier to add my Business ExtrAA number as part of the booking. I used to be able to add coupon/discount codes and save 5% – 7%, but American has pretty much gotten rid of that option.

Ultimately, I like competition. I like to be able to buy the same thing in lots of places. But there are still plenty of places to buy American tickets. I guess all that matters is knowing that if you go to Orbitz right now you aren’t seeing all of the options you used to.

That and, of course, if you have an Orbitz ticket for travel on American you’re going to need to work with American on any changes rather than going back to Orbitz — because Orbitz can’t book American’s inventory right now. Again, not a big deal — but good to know not to waste your time on hold waiting for an Orbitz agent only to find out you then need to wait on hold for an American one.


  1. mark said,

    “I have absolutely no opinion on who is right or wrong here. I don’t like it but it’s not that big a deal.”

    I am happy to read this. Travel bloggers feel compelled to write about everything…even when they have no factual basis for an opinion. Examples include questioning an airline for running a particular route when they have no hard data and thoughts on TSA when they have no security training. Just one time I’d love to see a blogger’s detailed financial model for a route they question. And, no, “the flight is always full when I fly that route” doesn’t count.

  2. Matt said,

    A side effect of this change is that FlexPerks from U.S. Bank uses Orbitz to search for tickets. It appears that FlexPerks points may be less valuable now since you do not have the option of redeeming to fly AA (and US Airways soon).

  3. Wandering Aramean said,

    While the specific battle may not be significant the overall war is. The airlines are working aggressively to control access to their fare/inventory data in a manner which ultimately leads to less transparency and greater difficulty in comparing like-for-like purchases across multiple options. The long-term net result of that is higher fares to consumers.

    As someone who still buys plane tickets when I want to travel that means a lot to me.

  4. Gary Leff said,

    Airlines will eventually make their data available to third parties and allow the sale of ancillary products through these third parties. The fundamental disagreement here is simply over price. This is simply a bumpy process by which they’ll get to an equilibrium that allows for more total sales and more total revenue.

    Meanwhile several comapnies are working hard to customize information and help consumers make informed comparisons. These aren’t just the RouteHappys of the world, it’s at the core of Google’s business model for travel.

    And the DOT is preparing to require that airlines provide OTAs with near real-time fee information (in a format like xml) although not requiring that they allow other distribution platforms to sell their ancillary services.

    Orbitz vs American Airlines is a simple commercial dispute. it’s in the context of a broader struggle over how airfares are distributed. And of course airlines would like more revenue. But OTAs aren’t the hero for the consumer here either. That hope rests in competition from new market entrants, and from existing companies coming in to disrupt the market.

  5. Dan said,

    Gary,

    I haven’t used an OTA to buy a ticket since 2008. That year, I had to change a trip, and I had to pay an OTA change fee on top of the airline change fee.

    I was pissed. Where was the value added for a simple domestic round trip, when all I did was deal with a computer? There was none.

    They may have changed their policies on fees since, but I dislike having to keep track of two sets of fees for no reason.

    I should note that I purchase extremely few domestic tickets (on an order of magnitude of about two every year) so it really is more hassle keeping track of policies that what I would get for rewards in return.

  6. Nick Summy said,

    The only value I’ve ever found in OTAs is booking semi-complex trips that use multiple airlines. For instance I’m flying to Brazil and hitting up 3 cities for only $550. Using an OTA was the only way to book it.

  7. JL said,

    Agreed w all your points, Gary. So what OTA do you propose as an alternative?

    I spent all last night using every OTA I know trying to replicate an itinerary I found on ITA (multi city) and just could not do it.

  8. Nick Summy said,

    JL, did you try hipmunk? Usually it can replicate stuff I have found on ITA and then can point you to the correct OTA

  9. JL said,

    @Nick Summy

    I’ve tried hipmunk and it’s mostly a miss for me. They support advanced ITA codes, but it never shows all the available flight options.

    I will give it another shot though.

  10. Nick Summy said,

    @JL, out of curiosity, what itinerary are you trying to find?

  11. Wandering Aramean said,

    OTAs may not be a “hero” for the consumer but I’ll take any public interface which shows more data over a company doing their best to NOT share the data. Maybe it is for cost reasons, and it is fine that they’re using that as the justification, but the fact remains that in fighting over who gets to keep more of my money from a ticket purchase they’re screwing us.

    As for the IATA Resolution 787 stuff, that’s also very much a mixed bag. Yes, the airlines will be publishing more data into the fare feed, including ancillary fees. But the approach allows airlines to control what information they’re presenting up to any given customer. When the airlines can choose which fare to present based on who you are – in addition to city pair and dates and such – that’s another way they can screw you.

  12. Gary Leff said,

    All things equal I want more information, not less. But this particular spat between Orbitz and American won’t be close to dispositive in the overall trajectory of airfare distribution. It’s a hugely competitive space. Airlines compete, OTAs compete, and there are plenty of new entrants. Don’t blow this one contract dispute out of proportion in terms of its overall/global importance.

  13. dwonderment said,

    Sometimes the fares are lower on orbitz over aa.com
    AA is not always loaded correctly and frequently overprices tickets
    US airways sells it tickets lower than aa.com
    Imagine no Orbitz or Usairways.com
    You have AA with its smoke and mirrors acting with predatory business practices
    its a scary thought
    So scary I didn’t book aa coming home (@ 350.00) one way
    from the holiday weekend for the first time in ten years\I booked Virgin America price (117.00) one way
    AA cant become a bully to everyone
    if they do I will pursue all other options

  14. JL said,

    @Nick Suummy

    Here’s what I was trying to construct:

    Sept 24th
    SFO JFK AA164
    JFK LHR AA106

    Oct 5th
    NCE LHR AA6587
    LHR DFW AA81
    DFW SFO AA1393

    ITA shows a price of $1247 booked into Q class on the O:AA segments and S on the BA codeshare

    I just can’t seem to reproduce this on hipmunk. Would love to hear any tips.

  15. JohnB said,

    Try dealing with any OTA with any problem. Cancelling a flight, IRROPS, ticket discrepancy, you name it.If Orbitz (since I am most familiar with Orbitz issues) has any part of it….Well, you will be left in the cold, holding a phone in a never ending queue. Many airlines don’t even want to touch your reservation, when you made it on Orbitz. I have had too many friends and family members get screwed over by Orbitz. I only use them as a pricing guideline. It is a shame because years ago, Orbitz was decent organization. The original airline partners put a lot of effort into Orbitz. The other OTAs put much effort to blocking Orbitz from even existing. Could it be another fight to end Orbitz? There are so many sources of info, on the internet, why bother with just Orbitz?

  16. American Flights Bookable On Orbitz (Again) – Points Miles and Martinis said,

    […] a dust up last week between American Airlines and Orbitz, American airlines plans to return to selling fares through […]

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