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Tale of A Travel-Site Tiff

It never ceases to amaze me how established companies will not only attack Web sites that send business their way, but do so when they need all the help they can get. Let's look at one example from a market sector in such sad shape, that it makes the newspaper business look good --the airline industry, and American Airlines in particular.

American is yanking its flight listings from Kayak, a travel-search engine, effective Friday. Its beef with Kayak, as reported at numerous sites, centers on Kayak's practice of displaying fares from both airlines and online travel agents such as Orbitz and CheapTickets.

Kayak says that American asked it to remove those alternate sources from its flights' listings; Kyak refused, and so starting tomorrow, the search engine will only list online travel agents' prices for AA flights.

(A publicist with American's outside PR firm said he didn't have the company's side of the story and referred me to an in-house representative, who has yet to return a call from around 1 this afternoon. I'll update this post when he does.)

Why is this dumb for AA? Because Kayak's flight-search engine is so far superior to anything at its site--or any other airline's. See, for example, how Kayak compares to American's AA.com site in a search for flights leaving from Washington to San Francisco over Labor Day weekend.

American's search-by-schedule option serves up a flat list of flights, sorted by departure time, with prices waiting at least one screen away; its "enhanced" price-and-schedule search puts departing flights on one page, returning flights on another, and fare totals with tax on a third.

Kayak, by contrast, provides a one-page listing that can be quickly trimmed down by clicking the checkboxes and moving the slider controls at the left. You can exclude two-stop, one-stop or red-eye flights; require departures or arrivals within the times of your choice; reject flights at the "wrong" airports (say, BWI here and San Jose in the Bay Area); you can even decline itineraries that include turbo-props or regional-jet aircrafts.

And Kayak doesn't do this for just one airline at a time: You can see fares from a number of airlines, then prune that list to show only fares from the airlines you like, or from airlines in a specific frequent-flyer alliance.

It is a huge waste of my time to muck around with an individual airline's site to find a flight. (I am, however, sorely puzzled to see Kayak trail such inferior travel-search sites as Travelocity and Expedia.) So why would an airline want to make it harder for customers to spot its services on Kayak? It can't be that American is afraid of people finding lower fares for its flights through travel-agent sites, since it already promises to match their prices.

Instead, it's awfully easy to see this episode as yet another of the same self-destructive, "we're too good for the Internet's help" control-freak behavior that has led, for instance, to demanding the removal of downloadable homemade subway maps, newspaper publishers suing Google for indexing their sites and therefore sending more traffic their way, and companies and organizations suing users who have written better Web interfaces for their own services.

Some people would put Hasbro suing the makers of the popular Scrabble knock-off Scrabulous and developing its own, buggier Scrabble Facebook application -- instead of giving its blessing to Scrabulous in exchange for a cut of its ad revenue -- in this category as well.

I'm sure you can come up with some more examples -- please share them in the comments.

What drives companies and governments to this kind of silliness? And how long is it going to take for them to grow out of it?

By Rob Pegoraro  |  July 30, 2008; 6:30 PM ET
Categories:  The Web  
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Comments

I think the Hasbro example is not a good one. Why should Hasbro get only a cut of the action when scrabulous is a blatant violation of their property? If they feel they can make a better version (and some reviews have said both are equally good), why should a company be content with getting a cut from a thief?

Posted by: Bart | July 31, 2008 8:07 AM | Report abuse

Please add book publishers who refuse to allow a digital book to be reasonably priced - instead insisting that the digital version - that obviously costs less to produce and distribute - be priced exactly the same as the paperback price. The only benefit to the consumer is no shipping and handling costs.

Digital books would be more popular and sales would soar if the publishers would just "get over it".

Posted by: wwwqueen | July 31, 2008 11:38 AM | Report abuse

First of all I agree Kayak has a great site, but I think you're discounting American's Price & Schedule search display a bit too much. I find it to be very flexible and powerful for my searches to/from DFW and NYC.

And from what I read in other venues this isn't a case of "we're too good for the internet" as much as it is determining who gets to make the decision on how a company's content is sourced.

Posted by: Sam | July 31, 2008 12:48 PM | Report abuse

@sam,

Shouldn't the web users get to decide how they like to view content? If they like AA's interface so much, they can pop over to aa and ignore kayak. I always thought it was cool of American to post their flights on Kayak, as few others seem to do.

I usually don't buy off AA because when I enter my Canadian address, they convert the fare to Canadian dollars, even though I have a US dollar credit card, meaning I'd have to pay two exchange rates, one for AA, one for my credit card.

Posted by: josef | July 31, 2008 2:34 PM | Report abuse

Josef - I hear you, and agree that web users should have the choice on VIEWING the content. But I believe a company should have the right to tell a distributor that if you want to RECEIVE/SHOW my content, it must come from my company. In viewing American's (or other airlines for that matter) fares on Kayak in the past, they are always appear cheaper on AA.com (or united.com, etc) than they are on the other two options listed (cheaptickets and orbitz) if my memory serves me correctly.

Posted by: Sam | July 31, 2008 3:00 PM | Report abuse

I am very thankful to Rob Pegoraro for his advice. I used IE 6 for a long time, and now I switched to Firefox 3. It is wonderful: quick, rich and convenient. The only problem is how to save the space: it is not possible in Firefox to combine toolbars - in IE 6, I combined Menu with Links and saved some valuable space for the web-site content. If Rob, or somebody else knows, how to do this with Firefox - please respond.

Posted by: VadimL | August 1, 2008 12:03 PM | Report abuse

Isn't it really all about cutting distribution costs for the airline? If they aready have their content directly available on Kayak, why should they accept their content flowing from Orbitz at a higher cost to the airline? If you are looking for results from Orbitz, Travelocity and the rest there are plenty of sites out there that will show that like bookingbuddy.com, traveldealzone.com, mobissimo.com, etc.

Posted by: Heston | August 1, 2008 6:51 PM | Report abuse

Kayak 1, AA 0. As a result of this idiocy me and my 75,000 miles a year will be much less likely to book an AA flight.

Posted by: MarcoC | August 4, 2008 9:17 PM | Report abuse

Kayak is using American's content by permission of AA subject to the terms and conditions American outlines. If Kayak is in violation of those terms, then American has the right to pull its content. Blame Kayak on this one, not American.

Posted by: GMac | August 5, 2008 8:37 AM | Report abuse

MarcoC - if you value a 5 minute booking experience enough to let your 75k miles go by the wayside, I'm not sure AA is the idiot in this case...unless you have even more miles on all other carriers and each of them decide to stay in Kayak now that AA has left.

Posted by: Sam | August 5, 2008 11:58 AM | Report abuse

If AA has control over their distribution (ie. Rate parity), then the Kayak user will book on AA anyway...

Kayak can't do anything but what their doing. Their major marketing argument is price comparison...

this reminds me of the Expedia Intercontinental battle which ended a little while ago with ICH coming back to EXPE...

Posted by: Brendan | August 14, 2008 7:46 AM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
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