Are Airline Restrictions Costing Consumers Billions?

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If you use a travel website to find the best airfare, you’re probably missing out.

But it’s not because of anything you or the websites are doing. It’s the airlines, according to a new economic impact study, “Benefits of Preserving Consumers’ Ability to Compare Airline Fares” from the Travel Technology Association and written by Yale University professor Fiona Scott Morton.

The study concludes that consumers see a reduction in potential savings thanks to two factors — a recent wave of airline consolidation, plus efforts by airlines to steer consumers away from online travel agencies (like Expedia, Orbitz and Priceline) and metasearch travel sites (like Google Flights, Kayak or TripAdvisor).

According to the study:

At a time when independent, transparent comparison shopping is most needed, some airlines are attempting to restrict access to their fare and schedule information, reduce the ability of consumers to easily compare prices, and drive travelers to their own websites, which do not offer price comparisons.

The study states that these factors likely:

  • lead to higher average airfares
  • increase consumers’ search costs
  • make entry into city-pair routes by smaller airlines more difficult
  • reduce transparency
  • strengthen the market power of the major airlines.

By restricting consumer access to information such as prices and schedules, airlines may reduce “net consumer welfare” by more than $6 billion per year, the study finds. In addition, the restrictions may keep 41 million passengers from deciding to fly each year.

The study, however, doesn’t come from a disinterested third party. The Travel Technology Association is a trade association for the travel technology industry.

At least one major airline has responded to the findings. Delta spokesperson Anthony Black tells the publication Travel Weekly:

Delta will continue partnering with a limited but responsive and adaptable group of online retailers who we believe effectively support our efforts to provide a robust shopping experience. Delta reserves the right to determine who it does business with and where and how its content is displayed.

For more on how today’s airlines are performing, read “The 5 Most Satisfying Airlines In North America.”

And be sure to check out “17 Proven Ways To Save On Travel” before you plan your next trip.

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