As Expedia has transformed itself in the past year from a 747 to a jumbo jet in the online booking field, questions are being raised about whether what’s good for the company is good for the many travelers seeking a bargain.
In February, Expedia struck a deal to buy Orbitz Worldwide for a reported $1.3 billion, an acquisition that also includes Orbitz’s corporate travel site, CheapTickets and HotelClub. The move comes on the heels of Expedia taking over Travelocity and Australian-basedWotif.com.
The wheeling and dealing has left Expedia and the larger Priceline Group—includingPriceline.com and Kayak—standing as the go-to online destinations to purchase airline tickets until Google launches its airfare component and Amazon enters the hotel room foray.
“It definitely doesn’t make for free enterprise,” says TC Clements, a Michigan-based travel agent by trade who this year launched QuickPick Travel, a leisure travel site aimed at customizing trips better than the likes of Expedia and Kayak. “The websites are not going to be as incentivized to promote good deals.”
That’s already been the case for years, says Jennifer Blanes, CMP, global account executive at ConferenceDirect. The former reservation and revenue manager has relied on Expedia and Kayak for years because most sites require price parity among airfare and hotels.
“There really wasn’t much of a reason to shop around unless certain carriers didn’t use those sites or you were willing to use Priceline or Hotwire for a deal at a surprise hotel,” says Blanes, who also uses the sites to ensure she can’t beat a hotel’s group rate.
Clements, who assists business travelers through his other venture as a franchise owner of Premier Cruise Planning travel agency, predicts air travelers will push back from online-only purchasing—the popularity of which he credits to very effective marketing strategies—and start using travel agents like himself more often, part of what he describes as our society’s “return to service” movement.
“Billions of dollars have been spent convincing people that the best way to buy travel is online, and I beat those prices daily,” Clements says.