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The Aggregators are Coming

Comparing the Comparison Shopping Sites

SideStep: available in two versions (Web and toolbar), allowing more comparisons and flexibility; includes JetBlue, and Orbitz (for now); large, established representation of travel vendors; flexible user interface.

Mobissimo: more global approach, includes 20+ international vendors, includes onetravel, opodo.

Kayak: working on offering user reviews for hotels; good, competitive user interface; searches Orbitz and JetBlue.

Qixo.com: global emphasis, searches on easyJet, JetBlue, Jetsgo, Opodo.

Comparing the Comparison Shopping Sites: Case Studies
I searched on two itineraries:
1) Newark - Honolulu roundtrip, a very straightforward, long haul flight to a leisure destination, the kind of flights where price really matters.
2) Chicago - Atlanta, two massive airports, with some reasonable nearby airport options built in -- in Chicago I searched on either Midway or O'Hare.

For dates, I chose March 3-9, as it comes just after a slow period in travel, but right before spring break kicks in. I figured we might see representative fares in that stretch.

First up, Newark (EWR)) - Honolulu (HNL). As benchmarks, here are results from the three major booking sites.

Orbitz, EWR-HNL:
Multi-stops starting at $615
One-stops at $617
Non-stop both ways at $655

Expedia, EWR-HNL:
Non- stops starting at $653
Other fares $725 and up

Travelocity, EWR-HNL:
$615 one-stops
$653 non-stops

On to the aggregators:

Mobissimo, EWR-HNL:
Multi-stops starting at $616
One-stops at $620
Non-stop both ways at $654

The bulk of Mobissimo's best results came from cheaptickets.com and onetravel.com.

Customizable features: given Mobissimo's global emphasis, they allow you to filter results to see US providers only, and in different currencies.

SideStep.com, EWR-HNL:
Multi-stops starting at $615
One-stops at $617
Non-stop both ways at $648.75

Customizable features: using a simple checkbox system on the left side of the site, SideStep allows you to filter and restrict results by flight times, number of connections, airline, nearby airports, and by price range. Very, very slick.

Kayak.com, EWR-HNL:
Multi-stops starting at $599
One-stops at $599
Non-stop both ways at $655

Looks great, but, oops, the Kayak $599 fares all left from JFK, and returned to Allentown/Bethlehem/Easton, PA - yeesh. It's one thing to "search nearby airports," but that itinerary is absolutely grim. However, taking a cue from SideStep, and perhaps mindful that have defined "nearby" much more broadly than most, Kayak has an Airports checkbox option along the left navbar where you can narrow your search to airports you can stomach -- all you do is check or uncheck the airport, and the results adjust instantly.

After I narrowed the search to eliminate Allentown, I got the following:
Multi-stops starting at $611 out of JFK, $614 out of EWR
One-stops at at $611 out of JFK, $615 out of EWR
Non-stop both ways at $655 out of EWR

The bulk of Kayak's results on this route came from Orbitz.

Yahoo Farechase, EWR-HNL:
Fares to and from JFK in "nearby airport" search starting at $600
Multi-stops starting at $610
One-stops at $613
Non-stop both ways at $648

Qixo.com, EWR-HNL:
Multi-stops starting at $613.50
One-stops at $614.79
Non-stop both ways at $653.73

Interesting, these "to the penny" results.

Preliminary verdict: Lots of similar prices, and not terribly conclusive, but the nod on price goes to Yahoo.

On to Chicago - Atlanta

Orbitz, CHI-ATL:
Lowest fare: $195
Lowest nonstop $293-335

Lowest fare: $193
Lowest nonstop $293-335

Lowest fare: $291
Lowest nonstop $293-333

Lowest fare: $195
Lowest nonstop $295

Lowest fare: $195
Lowest nonstop $293
Lowest fare $273
Lowest nonstop $292

Lowest fare $188
Lowest nonstop $294

Lowest fare $189.29
Non-stop both ways at $326.89

On price, Yahoo's Farechase seemed to win both rounds, at least on the lowest fare with connections; on both routes, Farechase found low fares on Northwest that none of the other sites did. A very promising surprise win from the beta site.

On breadth of scope, SideStep's double net of Web site and downloadable toolbar is a winner.

Meanwhile, Kayak's broad definition of "nearby airport" mitigated by the ability to limit that scope is well done.

Mobissimo's laconic presentation of price and flight times makes it perhaps the easiest to parse purely on pricing/convenience factors, although at a price of less customizable results.

Finally, Qixo ran neck and neck in the lead with Yahoo on the lowest CHI-ATL fares, but lagged badly on the direct flight, and kept pace with the pack on the HNL flight. However, qixo's list of international partners is promising; I would definitely check Qixo for European puddle jumps, for example.

One additional note: for certain itineraries, I have found it best to book directly on the airline Web site. These might include itineraries on airlines with which I have frequent flier miles piled up, and hope to upgrade -- upgrades are often easier when you book directly with the airline. As a result, when an aggregator both finds me the best fare and gets me on the airline Web site, where certain amenities are more easily accessed, they have a satisfied customer.

Other Options
The four sites above work along similar lines -- you put in your itinerary, they show you all the prices. A few other sites take a slightly different tack: you put in your itinerary, they return results that show you which sites offer that itinerary, then you decide which site to search, click on the appropriate link, and then an actual fare search takes place. Sites working on this model include bookingbuddy.com, travelzoo.com, and others.

Go Anyway,
Ed Hewitt
Features Editor
The Independent Traveler

Editor's Note: IndependentTraveler.com is a member of the TripAdvisor Media Network, which also owns BookingBuddy.com. The TripAdvisor Media Network is an operating company of Expedia, Inc., which also owns Expedia.com and Hotels.com.

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