Trouble in Online Travel: American Airlines Ditches Kayak (Maybe Orbitz Too)

After years of ceding the upper hand in online travel to booking sites like Kayak and Orbitz, American Airlines is about to fight back. According to the CEO of a competing travel site, American Airlines is about to pull its airline listings out of Kayak and is considering doing the same with Orbitz. If it does so, other airlines such as Continental and Northwest may follow suit.

Airlines don’t like the booking sites because they have to pay them a referral fee for every ticket they sell, as opposed to capturing the full fare when travelers book on their individual sites. Even though that only amounts to a few dollars per ticket, every dollar counts to the troubled airlines—especially now with fuel prices going sky-high and the consumer spending going down.

American Airlines has a particular beef with Kayak because it tends to show AA flights through its partnership with Orbitz instead of directly from American. That means American has to pay a double tax, once to Kayak and once to Orbitz. (The deal between Kayak and Orbitz, charges the competing CEO, was meant to drive up traffic numbers on Kayak as it was potentially seeking an IPO prior to raising $200 million instead last December).

The decision to sever ties with Kayak supposedly has already been made. The only question is whether Orbitz can salvage its relationship with the airline. This should strengthen competing travel sites, especially newer ones that link directly to the airlines like Mobissimo and Yapta.