Battle: Airlines vs. Global Distribution Systems vs. You

The latest turn in the saga of American Airlines’ ongoing fight with global airfare distribution systems occurred earlier this week when Sabre, the largest U.S. provider of flight data to travel agents, asked a judge to throw out the airline’s claim that it runs a monopoly.

But this was just the latest skirmish in what’s turned into a “war” between U.S. carriers and global distribution systems like Sabre, Travelport and others that collect flight and fare data from the airlines and distribute it to travel agents.

And airfare shoppers need to know about this since it could make it trickier to find cheap flights.

Airlines Fight for “Control”

It’s really a war about control, and it’s a war being fought on two fronts: There is the matter of control over dollars and profits, including how much the middleman should get paid; and there is control over content, namely airfares and airline fees. Much of this latter control concerns how fees are presented to the public; for example, some airline websites like to offer fees as bundled options designed to enhance a flyer’s experience while many flyers just want the bottom line (“what will it cost me to check a bag?”).

Read How to Find Cheap Flights on American Airlines

How Will This Affect Airfare Shoppers?

For consumers, one outcome of this war might be not being able to quickly and easily compare airline prices side-by-side which of course would limit one’s ability to make the best purchasing decision possible.

See the new American Airlines TV ad promoting one of its fees 

Airfare shoppers already have to make a separate visit to the Southwest site to see that airline’s prices (it does not share airfares with any other entity); if more airlines create their own separate shopping sites without sharing that information elsewhere, the hassle of trying to find the cheapest flights for trips could rise exponentially. We’ll keep providing updates on this situation as they occur, because an informed shopper is a smart shopper, and smart shoppers always have the best shot at finding the cheapest airfare.

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Published: September 29, 2011