PhoCusWright on Expedia’s TripAdvisor travel search engine
Crashing the Party: We Like Our Meta with Moxie
But by 2002 the party mood had cooled considerably. Farechase faded, Qixo quieted, and SideStep managed to morph into a nice little survivor, serving up a modest marketing service for suppliers that more or less paid the bills (or so they said). But then came 2004 and the party picked up some pep. Kayak, with some compelling innovation and an outspoken CEO, stepped in and quickly took charge though plenty of other new entrants (Mobissimo, Farecast, Dohop, etc.) continued to nip at its heels.
The opportunity seemed obvious. Suppliers were laser focused on driving share from OTAs to their Web sites. Metasearch offered more mean muscle to push those lowest yield leisure travelers past OTAs directly to airline and hotel Web sites, where the same low fares and rates awaited, only without the intermediary's booking fee. Kayak changed the meta market, and by the end of 2007 it had closed a US$196 million round of financing, swallowing whole its once larger foe, SideStep.
But then something switched—again. OTAs, seeing their customers migrate en masse to suppliers, started marketing via meta in a major way. A 2008 report by PhoCusWright and Hitwise revealed that the biggest beneficiaries of downstream traffic from the metasearch category were not suppliers at all, but OTAs1. In fact, the seven largest downstream traffic recipients were Priceline, Expedia, CheapTickets, Orbitz, Cheapoair, Hotwire and Travelocity.
Meta-Heads: Expedia Takes off the GlovesAfter a long and unpredictable relationship between OTAs and meta that veered from downright disrespect to a marketing marriage of convenience (or necessity?), the biggest OTA on the block is taking on meta head on. Expedia's TripAdvisor last week launched Flight Search, a meta still in beta that is already turning heads and clearly gunning for the biggest boat in the moat.
Well, how does TripAdvisor's meta measure up? Pretty darn well, considering Kayak has a five-year head start. It does not have all the bells and whistles of Kayak, such as flexible dates search and low fare availability calendars, and it only offers flights (whereas Kayak offers metasearch for hotel, car, cruise and vacations), but TripAdvisor also offers a few innovations—such as links to SeatGuru flight reviews and deep links into live seat availability maps on Expedia—that make its Flight Search product stand out.
TripAdvisor claims Flight Search returns far more results than any other metasearch player. While our test searches corroborated this claim, this does not appear to be a competitive differentiator. The number of results returned is not as important as the number and relevance of lowest logical fares. Both Kayak and Flight Search use ITA Software for the underlying airfare shopping technology, and there is likely to be little if any practical difference in the lowest logical fares returned.
One meaningful difference in fares has to do with Kayak's relationship with Orbitz, whereby on some searches Kayak gives prominent placement to Orbitz results. In several (but not all) comparative searches we conducted, Kayak displayed fares from Orbitz prominently, while Fare Search displayed the same fare, but directly from the supplier Web site. The Orbitz booking fee thus gave the appearance of a slightly higher fare via Kayak.
But where TripAdvisor Flight Search really ups the ante is with its Fee Estimator tool. This cool feature allows users to enter parameters around their planned checked baggage, frequent flyer program membership and desired in-flight services (see Figure 1). Flight Search then recalculates all of the presented fares in the result set with the expected fees included in the price (see Figure 2).