OUR TAKE
Travails of Booking Online Travel

Format for Printing

Format for printing

Request Reprints

Reuse/Reprint

By Dayana Yochim (TMF School)
June 13, 2002

Several recent studies have found that shopping online for travel is confusing. (We'll pause briefly here to accommodate your shock and dismay at these findings.)

Even the study's originator regrets not being able to make a clear recommendation. Of the six largest independent travel websites, not one clearly delivers lowest airfares, pristine customer service, reasonable flight choices, and top-notch booking tools, according to findings from the June issue of the Consumer Reports Travel Letter in conjunction with Consumer WebWatch.

Though Expedia (Nasdaq: EXPE) bubbled to the top in several categories, rivals Travelocity (Nasdaq: TVLY) and Orbitz compared quite favorably. Smaller sites like Cheap Tickets (Nasdaq: CTIX) (good ratings for customer service), One Travel, and TravelNow (Nasdaq: TNOW) were cited for good deep-discount fares. But watch out for the restrictions. (See what we mean about confusing?) Most troubling of all was that all of the booking sites spit out different flight recommendations in response to identical travel queries. (For more details, check out the reports at www.ConsumerWebWatch.org and www.ConsumerReports.org/travel.

While online booking has given consumers some powerful tools -- such as access to low fares and the ability to specify your choice of kosher, vegan or meatatarian meal -- there is clearly a bias in the way flight information is displayed. Some airlines (like National and Frontier) don't show up in many search results. Meanwhile, Southwest Airlines (NYSE: LUV), one of the lowest-priced carriers around, doesn't list fares on independent sites. These conflicts will continue to exist on travel sites and the airlines that own or advertise on them.

The problems will only multiply as the industry grows. Currently, travel is the single largest commerce category on the Web, according to Jupiter Media Metrix, racking up $24 billion in sales in 2001. Travel sales are projected to grow to $64 billion by 2007.

What's a traveler to do? Check in with folks on the Best Travel Spots/Tips discussion board. Then clear out a few hours on your calendar to shop around for the best flight.

Recent Articles by

  • 04/27/2014 - There's a Gaping Hole in Your Future Budget
  • 04/06/2014 - 10 Rules to Guide You Through a Lifetime of Financial Decisions
  • 11/28/2013 - Black Friday 2013: How to Game the BF Sales at Wal-Mart
  • 09/28/2013 - Top 3 "Healthy" Fast-Food Flops
  • 09/14/2013 - Christmas Creep: Besides Kmart, Which Retailers Are Pushing the Holidays Way Too Early?

The Motley Fool is investors writing for investors. To view a writer's current stock holdings, check out his or her online personal profile.