Why Can Travel Websites Charge Less for the Same Round Trip Ticket Than the Airlines Do?
A faraway tropical destination, summertime family reunion or ski trip often takes a certain amount of clicks and website scrolls before arriving at the best price and itinerary. Travel websites sometimes charge less for the same round-trip ticket compared with airlines because they have access to more data about available prices, helping them locate better deals. But not all travel websites sell tickets; some redirect you to the airline website for purchase. They’re not necessarily charging less, just locating the best bargain. Sometimes airlines offer better deals to lure customers away from travel websites.
Many Websites, Many Clicks
In 2010, "The New York Times" reported that travelers visit an average of 21 websites before booking their airline tickets. The sheer volume of travel websites, each promising to locate the cheapest ticket, make it difficult for consumers to feel confident that they’re scoring the best price for tickets. Some travel websites, including Kayak.com and Fly.com, try to simplify the process by promising a “meta” search that includes other travel websites as well as airline websites, reducing the number of websites a researching consumer must visit. This can help direct buyers to cheaper round-trip tickets more efficiently, regardless of whether it’s through the airline directly or through another travel website. Consumers might not purchase through the travel website but instead be directed to the airline website.
Fluidity of Price
When airlines contract with travel websites, they’re sometimes prohibited from offering cheaper fares on their own websites, according to Fox News. However, airlines can sometimes charge less by sending promotional codes and discounts directly to customer email inboxes, bypassing travel websites to sell tickets. Regardless of these incentives, airlines are sometimes restricted by their own pricing rules. Ticket prices are often governed by fuel prices, seat supply, competition, seat demand and the distance of the route, according to FareCompare.com.
Travel Websites vs. Airlines
Although travel websites can charge less for the same round-trip ticket because they have access to greater volumes of price listings, they sometimes charge a booking fee that can increase ticket prices. Fox News stated that travel websites sometimes charge between $5 and $25 in booking fees for the same round-trip ticket. "USA Today" states that airlines, worried about losing profits to online travel agencies, sometimes offer more competitive rates or extra perks for booking through their websites directly. Alternately, airlines penalize travelers for booking through a travel website, denying full value on frequent flyer points or not receiving seat assignments before check-in.
Before You Book
Given the complexity of airline ticket pricing, research prices on travel websites and also airline websites before booking. Sometimes travel websites will offer you a rebate if cheaper prices turn up within a specified amount of time after you book the ticket. If you’re flexible with dates, registering with a travel website can allow you to receive an alert when the price drops.