Image: Southwest Airlines
Southwest Airlines
Southwest Airlines, the world's largest airline in terms of passenger numbers carried, has launched a computer application called DING! that alerts consumers to special fare deals that can be found only on Southwest's own Web site.
updated 11/16/2007 4:06:38 PM ET 2007-11-16T21:06:38

Airlines are increasingly selling offering their best deals on their own sites, and not sharing them with Expedia, Travelocity, Kayak, Sidestep, other online travel agencies (OTAs), and so-called aggregators.

Also, many low-cost carriers are now selling all their fares only on their own Web sites.

It's pretty clear why this is happening. Airlines are forced to pay OTAs and other third-party sites commissions when consumers buy airfares through them. It's just like the days when the airlines used to pay travel agents, who once got a standard 10 percent commission on every airline ticket they sold. If airlines can skip the middleman, not only do they save the commission expenses, but they build consumer loyalty and drive traffic to their own sites.

The United States' two largest airlines, American and Southwest, have both launched computer applications that alert consumers to special deals that can only be bought on their respective sites. But, in addition, many other U.S.-based and several large international airlines are increasingly marketing fares on their own web sites that are lower than those they sell on third-party sites.

What all this means for the future of online travel agencies and aggregators is anyone's guess, but if I were in their shoes I'd be sweating. For consumers, this trend results in savings, but also requires them to shop around more, since even an airline offering a discount on its own site may still not always have the lowest fare on any given route.

Note also that these "private" fares will not be listed on fare-comparison listing sites or taken into consideration by fare-prediction sites. But they are listed on fare-search sites such as

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