Need an Airline Ticket? Meta-search is Where Most Travelers Start
Conventional wisdom says most airfare searches start at an online travel agency or airline website.
But the conventional wisdom could be wrong.
Asked where they begin a ticket query, a new survey points to so-called "meta" search sites such as Hipmunk.com, Kayak.com and Mobissimo.com, which cull fares from multiple airlines and online agencies and then display the choices.
A slim plurality of travelers in a new
About 1 in 5 travelers go directly to an online agency, while only 7 percent call a travel agent and 2 percent visit a search engine like
The survey of more than 800 air travelers comes at time when a coalition of online agencies is fighting a proposal by
The coalition, which calls itself Fair Search, claims
It also comes as online travel agencies are fighting airlines over how tickets are distributed online, according to
"The airlines move towards obscuring airfares and fees, combined with possible
A closer look at the way air travelers buy their ticket suggests they are adaptable, savvy and somewhat frustrated as a group. Perhaps more so than the industry is willing to acknowledge, at least publicly.
"I always start with Kayak.com," says
"First I go to Delta, my airline of choice," he says. "If the fare seems outrageous, I will go to
"I guess that's because I'm used to their format and it allows me to scan different airlines and prices and schedules quickly and easily," she says. "I then move on to Travelocity and
But Mayne always books the final ticket through the airline, because airlines take better care of direct-booking customers.
"I've been screwed too many times and ended up having to spend the night in the airport because I had an
"I start at Orbitz.com to do a search to see which airline has the lowest fare but then I normally go directly to the airlines site of one of the few airlines I prefer to travel in order to earn my frequent flier miles," she says.
If all of this seems like a game, that's because it is - at least to many of the air travelers who participated in the poll. If there were a place -- either online or offline -- where they could be assured of a reasonable price and service, they say, they'd choose it every time.
"I feel that we have been forced to spend inordinate amounts of time searching online ourselves for the best deal, the best times to fit our schedules so that we can take a trip, and then after we make tentative decisions about those, we have to wade through all the a la carte charges for everything," says
Finding such a place to buy airline tickets could be a tall order.
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