Airlines are increasingly pushing and prodding travelers to book flights through their own websites, where they can sell more services like in-flight entertainment and add-ons like hotel reservations. They also bypass paying a commission to websites that book plane tickets.

“For consumers, this means that the hunt for the lowest fare has become more difficult as the number of places where they can comparison-shop has dropped. In many cases, they just give up.

“Already, travelers typically use three or four sites when shopping for a flight, according to Phocuswright, a travel market research firm. “The number goes up for your more price-sensitive travelers,” said Douglas Quinby, vice president for research.

“Consumers are going to go to the price-comparison sites and thinking they’re comparing prices, but they’re not,” said Fiona Scott Morton, an economics professor at Yale University, who conducted a study for the Travel Technology Association, a trade group representing air travel sites, asserting that the airlines hurt competition when they cut independent distributors out of the loop.

Experts say airlines’ evolving distribution strategy is another outgrowth of a consolidated airline industry, where customers now face additional charges for just about everything except using the bathroom.

The airlines say that they still offer travelers plenty of ways to shop and that their fare and schedule information is still available on the big online agency and comparison sites like Expedia and Kayak.

Delta, for one, is unapologetic.

“Delta reserves the right to determine who it does business with and where and how its content is displayed,” a company spokesman said in an e-mail, adding that the carrier continued to work with a limited number of online partners.

Click to read full article: SFGate