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Is Travel Parity a Myth?

When looking to book your hotel or flight online, you seem to have a lot of options. Expedia, Hotels.com, Orbitz, Priceline, Kayak, and Booking.com all vie to get your attention and help optimize your booking process. But experienced travelers know: these options are really not that different from each other.

As it turns out, that statement is not just true in spirit. Expedia and Priceline, in fact, own most of the large booking websites available to US travelers today. What does that do to travel parity, and what does it mean for travelers like you? That’s what this post will examine in detail.

A Closer Look at Expedia

Expedia is most well-known for Expedia.com, a comprehensive flight, hotel, and car booking website. But since its merger with Orbitz last year, it’s portfolio of companies is far more extensive.

Today, these are the travel websites owned by Expedia group:

  • CarRentals.com
  • CheapTickets
  • Classic Vacations
  • Ebookers
  • Egencia (Previously known as Expedia Corporate Travel)
  • Expedia
  • HomeAway
  • Hotels.com
  • Hotwire Group
  • Orbitz
  • Travelocity
  • trivago
  • Venere.com
  • wotif.com

Together, they account for more than 105 million monthly website visits, and a 41% share in the US online travel market.

Considering Priceline‘s Market Entries

Priceline, of course, is not to be outdone. Much like Expedia, the corporation has gathered a number of brands under its umbrella that allow it to threaten its competitor’s hold on the US travel market. Here are the travel brands that fit under Priceline Group:

  • Booking.com
  • Priceline.com
  • Agoda.com
  • Kayak.com
  • Rentalcars.com
  • OpenTable

While not quite at the level of Expedia, These brands combined for more than 95 million monthly web visits in 2015, and a 31% market share in the same US online travel market.

exposed

Does Travel Parity Really Exist?

Given that Expedia and Priceline combine for almost three quarters of the entire US travel market online, a natural question arises: does parity truly exist when trying to book your travels online? A number of entities suggest that this is no longer the case.

Last July, a number of bipartisan lawmakers wrote to the Justice Department in order to demand action: “Increased consolidation among online travel agencies could transform a market that has benefited consumers into one that stifles competition,” noted Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) in their open letter. They fear a duopoly that will ultimately hurt the market and consumers alike.

Parity, ultimately, is about creating a level playing field. If the majority of booking websites are owned by just two companies, that parity no longer exists. Smaller, independent hotels are either forced to succumb to low prices to compete on the largest available travel websites, or risk a lack of exposure to potential patrons by foregoing a listing entirely.

What Does That Mean For Travelers?

As a traveler, of course, the long-term potential of this duopoly is interesting, but chances are you’re more interested in the actual, tangible effect that it will have on your travel plans. Does Expedia‘s and Priceline‘s dominance in the online travel market actually hinder your ability to book the best vacation possible?

Ultimately, that question is difficult to answer. The illusion of choice undoubtedly leaves a sour taste in your mouth: you thought you can compare travel sites for the best possible deal, but many of them are owned by the same company – so how much better will the deal truly be?

In addition, a consolidation of large travel sites will inevitably force smaller, independent hotels out of the public eye. If you’re looking for an authentic experience that leads you out of the Marriott and Hilton world, that’s not necessarily encouraging.

In the end, though, the duopoly will have little effect on your travel plans – for now. Companies like Orbitz and Expedia still compete against each other, and operate relatively independently. Still, monitoring where this increasing consolidation of online travel booking options leads will be a valuable exercise for any traveler interested in knowing just where and how the booking process actually occurs.

 

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