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December 21, 2005

Consumer Reports: Don't Trust Any Single Travel Search Engine

Courtesy of TechWeb News

No one travel search engine is capable of delivering the lowest airline fare or the cheapest hotel rate, so consumers are advised to use multiple sites, Consumer Reports said Wednesday.

The consumer watchdog's latest analysis of 11 of the most popular travel search engines found that no single site could be recommended as a one-stop destination for cheapest plane tickets, hotel room and other travel products.

None of the evaluated sites included all of the leading online travel agencies in their inventories, so many "Web-only rates" were not captured, Consumer Reports said in its WebWatch report. While some search engines checked low-fare airlines such as JetBlue, other low-fare carriers, including Southwest, the nation's leader in the low-fare market, were missing from inventories.

The travel search engines, or TSEs, also suffered regularly from technological glitches that prevented them from finding certain itineraries and rates, the magazine said. Three of the 11 TSEs had browser compatibility problems, which hadn't been seen among leading travel sites for many years.

A "disturbing" trend was the "customer-service vacuum" that existed in the TSEs analyzed, Consumer Reports said. Many of the sites did not encourage direct communication with consumers.

Finally, potential bias in search results was a common problem to many of the search engines. Display screens did not always clearly separate unbiased results with those that were paid placements or advertising, Consumer Reports said.

"So despite the hype and promises, for now the best advice remains: You'd better shop around," the report said.

The 11 sites analyzed included AOL Pinpoint Travel, BookingBuddy, Cheapflights, ITA Software, Kayak, Mobissimo, Pricegrabber, QIXO, SideStep, Travelzoo and Yahoo FareChase. The sites were chosen as among the most popular based on data provided by Nielsen/NetRatings.

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