The battle between American Airlines and online travel agents such as Orbitz and Expedia over fees has exploded into a full out war.
Earlier this week, American announced that it is trying to reshape the way airline tickets are sold, pulling all its flights off the online booking site Orbitz. Then yesterday, in a rare show of solidarity from a competitor, booking site Expedia fired back, changing the way American's tickets are displayed on its site, making it extremely difficult to find American flights.
"This has been done in light of both American Airlines' recent decision to prevent Orbitz from selling its inventory and a possible disruption in Expedia's ability to sell American Airlines tickets when our contract with American Airlines expires," Expedia said in a statement to ABC News. "American Airlines has shown it only intends to do business with travel agencies through a new model that is anti-consumer and anti-choice."
Any American Airlines tickets previously sold on these sites are still valid, but this fight could signal the start of a new era for how travelers book their flights and, possibly, how much they pay.
At issue are fees that each of the online travel agents get for each airline ticket sold. American is trying to steer more ticket sales to its own website and keep a larger share of the ticket prices for itself.
Expedia today said American's move "will result in higher costs and reduced transparency for consumers, making it difficult to compare [American Airlines] ticket prices and options with offerings by other airlines." The site's retaliatitory move now makes it very difficult for users to find American flights on Expedia.
A search on Thursday morning of flights from New York to Miami next month shows a nonstop on Delta for $235 and connecting flights on US Airways and United. No flights or prices for American flights are offered, but clicking through a series of links leads to several screens that allow the user to book each leg separately before eventually finding price information for a similar trip on American. The cost for a nonstop ticket on American? The same $235 as Delta, but customers wouldn't immediately know that.
A half dozen searches performed by ABC News on various routes produced a similar experience for American flights.
"This discriminatory action is unwarranted, especially considering that American has taken no action against and continues to operate in good faith with Expedia," American spokesman Ryan Mikolasik said in a statement via email. "While tickets for air travel on American remain available for purchase on Expedia, its favoritism toward other airlines' airfares may lead consumers into believing that they have fewer choices, even in situations where American's fares are lower, and schedules are superior, than other airlines that are listed first."
Airfare experts say the ongoing battle will mean more work for passengers looking for the cheapest flights.