I was surprised to read this evening that American Airlines has asked Kayak and SideStep to stop displaying their fares. (This follows news that you’ll have to pay JetBlue seven dollars if you want a pillow and blanket to use during your flights.)
This latest move by AA strikes me as utterly baffling. If you haven’t used Kayak, it’s a site that enables you to search many sites at once for airfares, including all of the airline sites, Orbitz, and others. The ticket price comparison feature is nice, but Kayak really excels because its interface is outstanding. So why is AA dropping out?
My guess is that they’re hoping to encourage other airlines to drop out as well, in the end killing price comparison sites like Kayak. Kayak is, among other things, an incredibly valuable tool for people who want to pay as low a fare as possible for a flight. Not only will Kayak show you the cheapest flights on a given set of dates, they also help you figure out when is the best time to buy tickets in order to get a good price.
THe airline pricing model is built around selling tickets to each customer at the highest price possible. They sell tickets cheaply to vacationers who are very price sensitive and buy tickets far in advance. They sell tickets at higher prices to business customers who tend to fly on shorter notice and have less flexibility when it comes to flight times. Sites like Kayak subvert that model, and it seems apparent to me that AA’s real goal is to kill them before they become more popular.
My guess is that AA reverses its policy before Kayak (and its competitors) disappear.