Money & Business

Travel Search Sites: Airlines Aren't Playing Fair With Flight Data

By / May 26, 2015 (iStock/Thinkstock)

The Travel Technology Association, in a new report, says travel sites like TripAdvisor can’t serve travelers well when airlines limit access to fare and schedule information—and in some cases, withhold the data entirely.

TripAdvisor and company have a big problem, and its name is Delta Airlines.

That’s the word in a new report from the Travel Technology Association (Travel Tech), whose members include online travel-booking sites like TripAdvisor. The industry has publicly raised concerns that the airline is withholding flight and schedule data from such sites in an attempt to drive consumers to the airlines’ sites.

“At a time when independent, transparent comparison shopping is most needed, some airlines are attempting to restrict access to their fare and schedule information, reduce the ability of consumers to easily compare prices, and drive travelers to their own websites, which do not offer price comparisons with other airlines,” Travel Tech states in the study, “Benefits of Preserving Consumers’ Ability to Compare Airline Fares.” [PDF]

Delta’s recent move to pull its fare and schedule information from third-party sites follows the lead of Southwest Airlines, which has never made its flight information available to those sites. Other airlines also have imposed limitations on the data they share.

Unlike Southwest, Delta isn’t shutting out everyone: Its main targets appear to be meta-search platforms like CheapOair, TripAdvisor, and Hipmunk, which aggregate data from a variety of air services, acquiring it indirectly. In comments to the The Wall Street Journal [subscription], Delta said it would “continue partnering with a limited, but responsive and adaptable group of online retailers.”

Travel Tech says this strategy is anticompetitive—hurting consumers, raising prices, and making it difficult for newer players to get a foothold. The study argues that if consumers lose the ability to compare prices, airfares could rise by $6.7 billion collectively, leading as many as 41 million consumers to avoid flying due to higher costs.

The author of the study, Yale University economics professor Fiona Scott Morton, suggested that the problem may need to be solved at the regulatory level. “We probably need a rule that says everybody can look at all the fares in an efficient way,” she told the Journal.

Travel Tech is asking the U.S. Department of Transportation to take a look at the issue, particularly in the wake of airline industry consolidation.

“At a time when only four airlines control 80 percent of domestic air travel, it’s imperative that the DOT evaluate this practice of preventing the onward distribution of fare and schedule data in order to safeguard consumer access to information,” Travel Tech President Steve Shur said in a news release.

Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the social media journalist for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. More »

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