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The promise of finding an inexpensive airline ticket has never been greater, with dozens of websites claiming to offer the best deals. Kayak, Hipmonk and Mobissimo are elbowing in on stalwarts like Expedia EXPE -2.40% and Travelocity. And lately, GoogleGOOG +0.62% has gotten in on the fare game.
Google is entering the airline ticket space, prompting the question: What's the best way to shop for plane tickets? Scott McCartney joins Lunch Break to discuss.
But more search power hasn't made it simpler to find the perfect ticket. While each site claims to offer the lowest ticket prices, there's actually wide variation in the prices they find. They start with the same data loaded by airlines but end up with different results. Some use their own technology to sort through airline schedules, fares, rules and inventory and sell tickets as an online travel agency. Some search other websites to aggregate scads of prices and then send buyers to buy at other sites. Some cull inconvenient itineraries from listings while others throw in every $20 savings even if there are extra connections and overnight stays.
"It's kind of mind-boggling to think how complicated a mathematical problem it is. To get me from [New York] JFK to Los Angeles, there can be over one billion possibilities," said Robert Birge, chief marketing officer at Kayak.
Searching for a simple Phoenix-Philadelphia round-trip in February, for example, produced eight different fares. Prices quoted ranged from $284 on Onetravel.com to $341 on Expedia. A round trip from Raleigh, N.C., to Shanghai ranged from $992 on Priceline and to $709 on CheapOair. After checking 10 different domestic and international routes using 14 different websites kept producing a wide range of fares.
The lesson of it all: It pays to shop around, since none of the sites turned out to be consistently cheaper than others. Shop at least a couple...