Expedia Drops American Airlines


NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Locked in a stare-down since mid-December over booking fees and who will collect them, American Airlines (Stock Quote: AMR) and travel booking website Expedia.com (Stock Quote: EXPE) refused to blink, and now AA’s flights will no longer be available through the popular price-comparison website.

Negotiations ended on Dec. 31, and while a solution may still be possible, for now Expedia joins Orbitz.com (Stock Quote: OWW), which was also unable to renew its agreement with AA and stopped offering its flights on Dec. 21.

The airline wants such sites to adopt its new Direct Connect system that offers passengers various options that affect the final ticket price like checked baggage allowances, priority boarding and preferred seating. The options and add-ons are available when booking flights on aa.com, which does not charge any booking fees.

Expedia, for its part, argues that AA’s system would be expensive to implement and would make the airline’s flights inherently more difficult to compare with those being offered by other carriers. The site called AA’s strategy “anti-consumer and anti-choice” in a statement.

American insists that it is “a strong believer in pricing transparency and the choice afforded customers by our inclusion in online shopping comparisons” but defended its new ticketing system on its website, arguing that “American’s approach will allow travel agencies the freedom to communicate reservation data directly with the airline, in the same way that many agencies work with hotel and car rental companies today.”

Apparently, the airline has no problems with other travel websites selling flights on AA and its affiliate American Eagle. It refers customers to Kayak.com or Priceline.com for comparison shopping. While it is not entirely clear why these sites are being allowed to continue listing the carrier's flights, their function as flight aggregators more than travel agencies may have allowed them to stay in the game.

While air travel appears to be rising and comparison-shopping sites have gained in popularity, some airlines like Southwest (Stock Quote: LUV) have long refused to play ball and have had no problem booking flights exclusively through their own sites.

American Airlines may hope to follow suit, and if customers respond to the variety of options available only on AA’s site, the travel websites may have to bite the bullet.

The development also affects customer service for tickets that had already been purchased on Expedia (or Orbitz, for that matter) before the deal fell through: Changes to those flights booked on Expedia need to be made by phone with Expedia Customer Support at 1-877-787-1205 (those who booked on Orbitz should call AA Reservations at 1-800-433-7300).

There’s more to air travel than ticket prices. Check out MainStreet’s Passenger Bill of Rights to know what to expect when you fly.

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