Contrary to Hype, Best Online Air Deals for Americans Found on European Sites

Contact: Cindy L. Jobbins, 215.575.4812, Susan Lindner, 212.922.5885


YONKERS, N.Y. - 11/12/2004 - A first-of-its-kind international investigation of cross-border shopping for online airfares led by Consumer Reports WebWatch reveals that European travel sites are much more adept at providing lower fares than U.S.-based sites. Complete findings can be found on Consumer WebWatch's site. A little-known Belgian site, TravelPrice, dramatically outperformed U.S.-based sites Expedia, Travelocity and Orbitz. An English-language site in the United Kingdom, Opodo, also offered better deals than its American rivals, which spend millions of dollars on marketing and advertising. Further, testers of all three U.S. sites found continuing problems with "fare-jumping," when sites display flights with prices that suddenly change mid- transaction.

The results were revealed in WebWatch's latest investigation, "A Cross-Border Examination of 20 Travel Web Sites Selling International Airline Tickets in the United States and Six Western European Countries," released today. The study was performed in conjunction with consumer groups in the U.K., Netherlands, Belgium, France, Germany and Denmark and is the largest, most complex study WebWatch has performed to date of the online travel market.

"Unfortunately, we continue to find that some of the best travel deals online are, in fact, not always available," said William J. McGee, a leading travel journalist and consultant who oversaw the project for Consumer Reports WebWatch and authored the report.

Key Findings:

  • Despite language and currency issues, several European travel sites could be viable alternatives for American consumers.
  • Flight and fare data provided by "sister" travel sites- those that have U.S. and/or European counterparts, such as Expedia, Opodo and Travelocity-varied widely from country to country, dispelling notions that these sites are identical except for home pages and translations. In fact, each sister site clearly obtained its own inventory of airfares.
  • Flight and fare data provided by "sister" travel sites- those that have U.S. and/or European counterparts, such as Expedia, Opodo and Travelocity-varied widely from country to country, dispelling notions that these sites are identical except for home pages and translations. In fact, each sister site clearly obtained its own inventory of airfares.
  • Many of the most viable low-fare airline choices are not always available on leading third-party travel sites. This is as true in Europe as it is in the United States (as exemplified by Southwest Airlines and JetBlue Airways).
  • Nearly all the travel sites were twice as likely to provide a lowest fare on a route that originated in the site's home country, as they were for all routes from all countries. Therefore, Americans traveling from the U.K. to another Western European destination, for example, may consider using a British site to book a ticket.
  • On the whole, English-language American and British sites did not perform as well as sites based in Belgium and Germany. When the sites were ranked by country, the United States trailed those two countries.
Methodology:

In collaboration with Consumers International of London, U.K, Consumer Reports WebWatch employed the proven methodologies it used in six previous tests of travel sites. WebWatch staff trained and oversaw participants from six European consumer organizations, conducting 144 tests on 20 individual travel sites in the United States and Europe. The European organizations were: Test-Achats/Test-Aankoop, Belgium; The Danish Consumer Council, Denmark; UFC-Que Choisir?, France; Stiftung-Warentest, Germany; Consumentenbond, The Netherlands; and Consumers' Association, U.K. "In general, U.S. sites have made substantial improvements in addressing credibility, transparency, and claims of service," said Beau Brendler, WebWatch's director. "We hope the European organizations will continue to monitor sites in their home countries for these qualities."

WebWatch is sponsoring a conference on the online travel market March 1 in Dallas, Texas.

About Consumer Reports WebWatch

Consumer Reports WebWatch is the leader in investigative reporting on trust and credibility in the online marketplace. 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. 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. WebWatch's investigative reports, articles and news are available to Consumer Reports' five million on- and offline subscribers and to the general public at www.consumerwebwatch.org.

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