RealTime IT News

Some Action in the Air

Low-fare air carrier Southwest Airlines , which has a lawsuit pending against the Orbitz travel Web site that is backed by five competitors, has yanked its flight listing data from the industry clearinghouse that supplies the site.

And, Travelocity.com Inc. has acquired WhereTo, an Australian firm with highly rated booking technology for a new type of air fare.

Financial terms of the acquisition were not disclosed, but Travelocity said that WhereTo has technology for searching consolidator or so-called "net fares" in which a supplier offers a fare to the travel agent at one price and the agent is allowed to market that fare at a higher price and earn the margin.

Travelocity said it now will be better able to efficiently manage net fares in near real-time, improving customer fare options. The WhereTo technology will also provide better pricing for more complicated trips such as en-route and multiple stopovers.

Meanwhile, Southwest's action clearly indicates that it means business in its dispute with Orbitz.

"We do not want to be associated with a site that eliminates independent alternatives for the consumer," company spokeswoman Ginger Hardage told Reuters.

Dallas-based Southwest filed a false advertising and unfair competition lawsuit against the new Orbitz.com travel Web site, which is sponsored by a consortium of rival airlines including American, United, Northwest, Delta and Continental.

In the suit, Southwest claims that Orbitz "has refused to eliminate false and misleading information from its Web site concerning Southwest's schedules, fares and routes."

Now, it is denying access to fare and route data by not providing it to the Airline Ticket Publishing Co., an industrywide clearinghouse that provides data to travel agents around the United States.

Orbitz had continued to display publicly available fare and schedule information, stating that it pays a fee to license this data with the right to offer it online.

Southwest now apparently will make its listings available through the computer reservation system of Sabre Holdings Corp., the largest system for travel agents.

Hardage was quoted as saying the absence of Southwest means that Orbitz cannot claim that it offers the lowest fares.

"Without Southwest Airlines, Orbitz is a collection of five of the largest high-fare airlines," Hardage said. "Any claim of being the lowest fares is certainly not the case."

Online bookings clearly are important to Southwest; the airline recorded more than one-third of its sales through the Internet, according to a Wall SreetJournal report.

Meanwhile, Orbitz spokeswoman Carol Jouzitis was quoted by Reuters as saying that Southwest's decision will have little impact on the travel site, since Orbitz wasn't getting paid for booking Southwest flights.

As for Travelocity, the company said the WhereTo technology will be combined with its current fare search tools, enhancing its ability to book complex itineraries with multiple stopovers online.

"By purchasing WhereTo, we can use its tools -- and leverage the great team that developed them -- to further enhance our capabilities as the net fare market evolves," said Terrell B. Jones, president and chief executive officer of Travelocity.com.