Despite intense competition, none of the major independent or airline Web sites has emerged as the best destination for the cheapest international airfares. In its first-ever report on booking overseas flights, Consumer WebWatch found the category's leader hampered by technology problems.
Orbitz, the Web site owned by five of the largest U.S. airlines, has spent millions marketing its services on television and the Web. In tests conducted by Consumer WebWatch in December 2003, the site was so adept at providing low fares it posted some of the most impressive statistics WebWatch has ever recorded. However, testers found the Orbitz fare display tools to be inaccurate and cumbersome. The site chronically presented listings for unavailable flights and returned fares that changed during the shopping process, most often increasing in cost.
"We've told consumers many times to shop the major sites for the best travel deals, and that advice still stands," said Beau Brendler, Consumer WebWatch's director. "For buying tickets for international flights, it comes down to whether you have time to bargain-hunt and the patience to make sure you're buying exactly what you asked for at the price you wanted."
Technology and "Fare Jumping" Problems
Over the course of several months, Consumer WebWatch planned, tested, and analyzed results of the three leading travel Web sites that offer integrated listings of competing carriers: Expedia, Orbitz, and Travelocity. These three sites were included in all 150 trials for routes from the U.S. to Europe, the Caribbean, Latin America, and Asia. In addition, "branded" Web sites maintained by airlines were also tested, though no single site was included in all 150 trials. They included sites maintained by five U.S. carriers (American, Continental, Delta, Northwest/KLM, and United) and eight foreign carriers (Air France, Air Jamaica, British Airways, Korean Air, Lufthansa, Singapore, Thai Airways, and Virgin Atlantic). In addition, an airline site was not included in any trial if that airline did not serve the route in question. In total, this project consisted of 150 separate trials, for a total of 911 queries across all 16 Web sites. Of these queries, 903 were deemed valid, after eight were discarded due to errors on the part of Consumer WebWatch.
Previous studies of the online travel market: Consumer WebWatch, independently and in conjunction with Consumer Reports Travel Letter, which ceased publication in December 2002, has conducted the most comprehensive series of tests and analyses of the online travel market -- including airlines, hotels and car rentals -- ever published. Previous reports are available at: Consumer WebWatch's archive.
About Consumer WebWatch
Consumer WebWatch is the leader in investigative reporting on trust and credibility in the online marketplace. Consumer WebWatch uses the proven methods of Consumer Reports to produce comprehensive research, breakthrough conferences and serves as a daily resource of unbiased and trustworthy information. Its research agenda includes entire online marketplaces, such as travel, search, health, financial services and more. Consumer WebWatch is a project of Consumers Union and is funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts, The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, and the Open Society Institute.