Steve Sherlock of Oodles sent me me a email pointing out a very interesting quirk that can give OTAs a functionality advantage over meta-search. Typically I would have thought that top notch meta-search are going to be better at delivering customers to the top fare combinations versus OTAs. The OTAs would have the advantage in packaging, customer rewards, content and community and other retail elements but that meta-search would have the lead in the search and user friendliness.
But in the Australian domestic market the airlines have structured their fares in such a way that they are very user unfriendly for meta-search. The results list is full of all the fares you would want to see on a typical Australian domestic city pair (say Sydney/Melbourne) but you have to book the outbound and return separately. There are two click offs prompted by the metasearch. Here is a shot from Wego to show you what I mean
Clearly this is something on the airline side, not within Wego. Meta-search results are dependent on their source material. Since the vast majority of domestic in AU is sold as one way segments then a meta company needs two searches and two separate results to produce a fare. The bulk of long haul is still defaulted to return so they have different value. I suspect this may even be a deliberate limitation that the airlines are using to drive customers back to the direct sites of Qantas, Virgin-Blue, Jetstar and Rex.
Webjet are the largest Australian OTA (by gross bookings). They have found away around this problem through the design of their underlying technology (called the TSA or Travel Services Aggregator). They are able to capture all of the segments from multiple carriers. The customer's card is collected once and then sent to all of the points of charge. For a multi-carrier fare this may mean that the card is charged three times (once by the first carrier, once by the second and a third time by Webjet for the fees) but the consumer has only had to enter the details once. In the battle between Online Agents and Meta-search, when it comes to domestic Australian flights it seems to be advantage OTAs.
Anyone out their from Wego or Webjet care to comment - would love to do a follow up post with your views? Anyone else know of similar consequences in other domestic markets?
Update - please read the response in the comments from Ross Veitch, Chief Product Officer at Wego.com
Disclosure - in the past I provided some consulting services to Wego. The work is finished but I remain a long term fan.