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An Examination of Booking First-Class Tickets Online

A Consumer Reports WebWatch research report,
prepared by: William J. McGee, Consultant

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Abstract

While travel remains the largest sector of online commerce, more Americans have moved from “looking” to “booking” on travel Web sites. The complexities of what’s on offer, as well as choices among search tools, continue to increase as well.

Consumer demand for first-class airline tickets is growing — sales of first-class tickets grew almost 10 percent from 2003 to 2004, U.S. Department of Transportation statistics show — and it seems apparent that the Internet is having an effect on the sale of premium airfare.

Consumer Reports WebWatch tested a variety of domestic routes among six sites: Expedia, Orbitz, Travelocity, and the Web sites of American Airlines, Continental Airlines, and Delta Airlines.

This examination of lowest first-class fares on a variety of domestic routes uncovered many complexities and challenges, as well as several concerns. In fact, buying first-class tickets online can be much more difficult than buying economy-class tickets.

In testing six sites — Expedia, Orbitz, Travelocity, and the Web sites of American Airlines, Continental Airlines and Delta Airlines — Consumer Reports WebWatch discovered:

Among the report’s most significant findings:

  • “Fare-jumping,” when a rate for a ticket suddenly increases or decreases during the booking process, sometimes without notification to the user, continues to occur on Expedia, Orbitz and Travelocity.
  • The single-largest incident of fare-jumping occurred testing Expedia, totaling $748.00
  • Although testers queried sites only for first-class fares, sites continually returned itineraries with business and even economy-class flights.
  • Testers found problems on Expedia, Travelocity and Orbitz with missing or incorrect labeling information for the airlines’ classes of service.
  • Expedia led all six sites, returning the lowest first-class fare four of 10 times. Travelocity returned the highest percentage of nonstop first-class flights. Orbitz recorded the highest savings for a single itinerary, returning a first-class fare $1,348.70, or 242 percent, less than the lowest fare offered by its closest rival.

An Examination of Booking First-Class Tickets Online