Online Travel Agencies (OTAs)

Booking Flights and Hotels: Online Agents or Direct? - New York Times

Excerpt from New York Times

Expedia, the online booking site that owns other major players, including Hotels.com, Hotwire and, more recently, Travelocity, announced about two weeks ago that it was planning to acquire yet another rival, OrbitzWorldwide.

So what does that mean for travelers?

Consider it a sign of the sea change already underway. Over the last few years Americans have been more likely to book flights on an airline website such as Delta.com or United.com than with an online agent like Expedia or Priceline — “officially ending” online travel agents’ “decade-long dominance in leisure air bookings,” declared a 2014 report from PhoCusWright, a market research company. The percent of leisure travelers who typically book their airfare with online travel agents was 32 percent in 2013, down from 37 percent in 2011, according to the report.

Analysts suggest that the shift is in part the result of travelers’ expanding appetite for modest comforts such as priority boarding and seats with more legroom, which can’t always be booked through third-party sites. Airlines have poured millions into their websites so that travelers can customize (read: increase the cost of) their flights with a few clicks or taps, adding lounge passes and Wi-Fi. And to sweeten the pot, some airlines are wooing travelers to their sites with the occasional discount code.

The direct booking trend is also being fueled by a boom in metasearch tools such as Google Flight Search, Google Hotel Finder, Hipmunk and Hopper, which make it easy to compare prices across multiple brands (although some airlines like Southwest have already chosen to keep their prices off such sites). Little wonder then that many consumers are using online agents like Orbitz (which owns CheapTickets and HotelClub) and Travelocity simply to educate themselves about their options — before booking directly with a hotel or airline.

 

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