air travel services; whose customer is it anyway?

…airlines are looking for a bigger role in how their products are sold. Google is seeking to establish a foothold in air travel search. And new technology companies, like Hipmunk and Vayant, want to offer yet more search options.

The biggest push to change online ticket buying is coming from American Airlines, which recently announced that it wanted to bypass the central reservation systems that now deliver fare information to online travel agents like Expedia and Orbitz, and instead deliver that information directly. Such a move would reduce the fees American pays to list its fares on travel agents’ sites and would give a boost to its bottom line, battered by years of falling fares.

If American wins — and for the moment, that is not certain as both Expedia and Orbitz have pulled American’s listings from their sites — airlines would gain the upper hand in ticket searches. The airlines, analysts said, would be able to try to lure customers with special offers or discounts, or make sure their cheapest fares show up only on certain Web sites.

“The end game is that American Airlines and other airlines want to have more control over their retail relationship with their consumers,” said Douglas Quinby, a senior director for research with PhoCusWright, a travel industry research firm. “The industry is in a fundamental shift to really rethink their customer experience.”

via The Search for Low Airfares Gets Harder – NYTimes.com.

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