That Airfare Site May Not Be As Impartial As You Think

The impression of airfare aggregator sites is that they’re mechanical purveyors of ticket information, but this is not always the case, writes Airfarewatchdog. Some sites won’t list some airlines, either permanently or temporarily, and for no reason transparent to the consumer. Case in point:

UPDATE: For most of these carriers, this doesn’t have to do with impartiality, but rather the difference between two different kinds of carriers. See reader badgeman’s comment.

Orbitz: Sun Country, Jet Blue, Southwest, SkyBus, Allegiant, USA3000
Travelocity: Southwest, SkyBus, Allegiant, Virgin America
Kayak: Southwest, SkyBus, Allegiant, USA3000
Expedia: Southwest, SkyBus, Allegiant, Virgin America, Spirit, USA3000
Sidestep: Southwest, SkyBus, Allegiant, Virgin America, USA3000

This is why it’s good to check out your routes on multiple sites, we like farecompare and farecast. Notes airfarewatchdog, “many…airlines reserve their best fares for their own web sites, even if they do list most of their fares with a third party site.”

Which booking sites exclude which airlines? [Airfarewatchdog]
(Photo: Getty)


Edit Your Comment

  1. gafpromise says:

    This is totally true. Southwest just refuses to be listed on those sites period, and their fares are dirt cheap usually so I always check their site. Also I have found, in my comparison shopping, that flights booked directly at the airline site ARE NOT more expensive than flights booked on the third party sites. I always book directly with the airline. Saves on fees and saves a lot of hassle if there is a delay or cancellation.

  2. Geekybiker says:

    I knew this was happening, but wow on southwest. They kill someone’s kid or something?

  3. LiC says:

    Southwest is just too cheap. You need to check out their site’s Special Offers section before you book anything.

    Off-topic, but the first site my family ever used for booking airline tickets was – and woah, look, no Southwest.

  4. Buran says:

    @Geekybiker: No, they just don’t list on thirdparty sites. What’s wrong with that? It’s their right to not have any resellers and do direct sales only.

  5. badgeman46 says:

    That may appear to be so to the layman, however; Its not quite true. All of those airlines, with the exception of Southwest are commonly known as Supplemental 121 airlines. Part 121 in the Federal Aviation Regulations is scheduled air service. In order to get a certificate, one must follow all the regulations. Airlines like Skybus, Alliegant, USA3000, and who could forget Hooters, etc actually operate more like a charter flight, which is Part 135 This is why you will not see them listed on travel sites. Its typically part of the business plan for these airlines. For instance, if Delta, a part 121 airline schedules a flight and only one person shows up, they are legally obligated to fly that flight. A 135 operation would not have to fly the plane, and could simply put that one person on a competing or partner airline. cc Ben

  6. Sian says:

    It wasn’t that long ago that Southwest was listed on the major aggregators. Dunno why they wouldn’t want to be listed, honestly.

  7. jamar0303 says:

    Odd- 3 out of 5 sites refuse to list Virgin America. Not that I think it’s a conspiracy, they’re just new to the game (after all, Virgin Atlantic is listed just fine, right?).

  8. muddgirl says:

    AFAIK, Southwest has never listed on sites like Travelocity and Orbitz – at least, not in the 8 years since I’ve started flying on Southwest. I generally use fare comparison sites to find the cheapest flight, then check the individual web sites of each company. Or, I’ll have the company travel agent do the work for me and put it on my card.

  9. crnk says:

    Southwest isn’t listed for a totally different reason than what is suggested here. They don’t publish most/all fares. Jetblue also does some of the same–they publish some fares and don’t publish others publicly.
    Thus, if WN doesn’t publish (and mind you, this is something the airline pays to do at their expense), nobody can access fare information except the WN website (suprise, a low cost distribution network).
    And as @badgeman46: has figured out, the others are not listed for other reasons.

  10. kyrka says:

    I think you should change the wording on this article. Its not that the sites don’t want to list those airlines, its that the airlines dont want to be listed on the sites. The way you have it now implies that the sites are cheating the consumers, which is just not true.

  11. lucidpsyche says:

    If I’m looking for a flight that’s not JetBlue (which I generally only fly, just to rack up the frequent flyer points… three free tickets in 3.5 years, whoo!), I go on Orbitz or Travelocity, find the flight I want, then go to the airline’s site and book directly through it. I usually save a couple dollars on the airfare plus any fees the other sites charge.

  12. Wasabe says:

    What’s the site that travel agents use? For the life of me I can’t remember the name of it.

  13. Airfarewatch says:

    A couple of points of clarification to the comments here:

    1) Southwest’s fares did indeed appear on Travelocity at one point.

    2) In some cases, it is indeed the airlines who don’t want to appear on OTA (online travel agency) and aggregator sites. This is the case with Southwest for sure. Even Southwest sometimes undersells themselves with their Ding! fares, which don’t appear on their own booking engine! (Speaking of off-market fares, check out American’s 25% off Caribbean fares, yours if you use the secret promo code).

    3) However, it is *totally* true that some airlines are included by some sites in the spirit of fairness, and others don’t include these airlines. Sidestep lists airlines that Orbitz does not; these airlines don’t pay either site to be listed. An airline will remove their fares from a site if there’s a commission or payment dispute with the OTA. You won’t even notice their fares are gone.

    4) The recommendation to use farecast and farecompare is truly ironic, since those sites don’t forecast or compare fares on Southwest, Allegiant, SkyBus, etc, and that was my whole point in writing the original article: never ceases to amaze.

    5)The listing or de-listing of airlines on certain sites has nothing to do with their status as charters or whatever, and everything to do with profit. Southwest does not want to pay Expedia et al. to sell seats on its planes when it can easily to the job itself for less money. They don’t want their fares to be compared to other airlines; they want the flying public to assume that SWA has the best fares every time, and often, they do.

    6) I think the bottom line is that you have a better chance of seeing fares on all airlines in one place if you use a site like Sidestep vs. Orbitz, at least for most domestic fares; and you just have to remember to look at SkyBus, Allegiant, USA3000, Southwest, and Virgin America sites if you’re flying routes covered by these airlines.

  14. theblackdog says:

    @lucidpsyche: I would love to try JetBlue, but unfortunately their routing for me to get to Phoenix (BWI to JFK to PHX) ends up being more expensive than Southwest and even some of the cheaper fares of other airlines.

  15. TurdsAndWhey says:

    The last time I booked a hotel on Orbitz, the site said the transaction could not be completed yet days later booked multiple rooms until my card maxed out. In the process of trying to correct this, using the company name making the charges, I discovered that the reservation system Orbitz uses is the same as for Priceline, Travelocity, and other major travel sites. WTF?