The big travel aggregators–Expedia, Travelocity, Orbitz, etc.–may have outlived their usefulness.

According to this article on backchannel.com, the layers of 3rd party vendors between the airlines, hotels, et al. have caused the end consumer prices to rise beyond what you could get from going to the airlines or hotels directly.

“While reporting this piece I spoke to several software engineers, executives of hotel chains, as well as academics and researchers who have spent a considerable amount of time and effort digging into the issue. Their conclusion is that the industry is in flux, and that really good bargains—for hotels, flights, and car rentals—are often largely illusory. “Hotels are not giving the aggregators as many good deals as they did in the past,” a former software engineer who used to work for Priceline told me. (He didn’t want his name used because he still is seeking work in the industry.) “You might as well call Sheraton’s front desk.”

Not only are you not necessarily getting the best deals any more, or any deal for that matter, you might be getting gamed by this system that we all think automatically scours the best prices for you. Often the technology you use is being used against you…

His team discovered that dynamic pricing (shifts due to supply and demand, and dictated by mouse-click traffic) also led to price discrimination and “steering,” where consumers were led to sites that weren’t necessarily the best deals.

Wilson’s group noted that Orbitz was steering Apple OSX users, for example, to more expensive hotels, since the algorithm assumed that an Apple user was more affluent than a PC user. The company denied the accusation but ended the practice. In a response to Wilson’s research, the company said using the Mac OS was just an “experiment” and “short-lived.”

Any way you look at it, the game has changed, as you can clearly see from a recent Hilton Hotels campaign…

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