Everyone wants to know where they can find the cheapest airfare. The answer is not so easy. There is no one place to get the lowest fares all the time. The distribution channels are complex and the lowest fares may be found in multiple channels depending on when and where you might be looking.
So we looked at the three most spoken about websites: Expedia, Orbitz, and Travelocity (please note alphabetical order), and Southwest which frequently claims to have the lowest prices on their routes. We looked at a mix of random city pairs, with various advance purchase patterns and length of stay. We tried to leave in the morning and usually come back in the evening. The objective in all of this was to try and make this as realistic as possible. We did not want to bias the study or the results.
And the winner is?
Well, not anyone really. The distribution of travel products is fragmented and confusing. At different points during the study any one of the sites proved they offered the lowest airfares. In fact the results were all within nine percentage points. The three major sites reviewed offered the lowest fares anywhere between 56% and 47% of the time. There were lots of ties, and many times multiple sites had the same lowest airfares.
We also wanted to see if the lowest itinerary and fare could be replicated (or beaten) on the airline's own website. The results were surprising. 25% of the time the lowest itinerary found on one of the big three internet travel sites could not be replicated. 27% of the fares ended up being higher. But could we find a lower fare on the airline sites? A lower fare was returned only 7% of the time, leaving the fares to be equal 41% of the time.
Finally, since we did this study over time, the results tended to fluctuate, resulting in no clear winner. If you are flying personally, it will take some work to get the best rate. If you are flying for business, many TMC's have tools in place that look at multiple distribution channels to ensure they are doing their job at finding the best rates for their customers. But it is not easy in this complex distribution process.
Very soon we will be issuing a complete white paper on the results on this study. Keep checking back on our website for updates as well as our other social media outlets, including twitter, LinkedIn and our blog.
Topaz provides strategic support to the corporate travel management professional. With 30 years of experience analyzing travel related expenditures, Topaz is a world leader in airfare & hotel auditing, providing benchmark information and consultancy services to improve the delivery of corporate travel services. Supporting travel managers, buyers and agencies, Topaz helps improve performance and facilitate