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Travel Wars

By Paula Ebben, WBZ-TV
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Sunset, Travel, Flight, Airline

(credit: Ian Waldie/Getty Images)

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Award-winning journalist Paula Ebben co-anchors WBZ-TV News at 5PM...
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BOSTON (CBS) – Here it is mid-January and already we are shoveling out after our second blizzard of the season.

It’s enough to make anyone dream of a warm winter getaway.  How does Key West, Mexico, or the Caribbean sound?

Nice, right?  But before you go packing your bikini, be warned, finding a good deal on a flight is a lot more complicated than it was just a few weeks ago.

The problem started with a disagreement between American Airlines and two of the largest online travel agencies, Orbitz and Expedia.  “It doesn’t bode well for the consumer,” said Anne Banas of SmarterTravel.com

As with most disputes, it’s all about money.

American wanted the agencies to use a complicated booking system that would allow them to up-sell customers with additional money making add-ons like preferred seating.

WBZ-TV’s Paula Ebben reports

The online companies did not  want to take on the complicated process, so the disagreement ended with the agencies no longer listing American’s flights.

American is also hoping to encourage customers to book directly on its own site; a move that would save the company millions in fees they pay to the online agencies.

That is a model Southwest Airlines has used for years.  If you want to fly the discount carrier you have to book directly with Southwest.  Great for Southwest, but it requires more legwork for the traveler.

“It really makes it more complex to do a comprehensive search,” Banas said.   

Adding to the mess is Delta Airlines which has started to pull out of some of the smaller travel websites.

So what is a traveler to do?  Banas suggests trying Kayak or Bing Travel.  These sites don’t sell tickets, they just compile fares and their results should include American and Delta.

You’ll still have to do a separate search on Southwest to find out its rates.  For international flights, Banas suggests Momondo, a site that’s based in Europe.  “They seem to be able to find stuff that some of the other searches can’t,” she said.

Online travel agencies like Orbitz and Expedia book thousands of tickets every year for American and even the experts can’t predict how this experiment will work out.

“I think this is going to go on for white a while and you might even see some other airlines jump on the bandwagon if this turns out to be profitable for American,” Banas said.  

Profitable for the airline and more work for you.

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