Skift Take

As the saying goes, you can run but you can't hide. Skiplagged may be marketing Southwest flights for now and helping flyers book them, but this practice doesn't have a bright future.

Series: Dennis' Online Travel Briefing

Dennis' Online Travel Briefing

Editor’s Note: Every Wednesday, Executive Editor and online travel rockstar Dennis Schaal will bring readers exclusive reporting and insight into the business of online travel and digital booking, and how this sector has an impact across the travel industry.

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Online Travel This Week

Give flight discounter and hidden-city ticket enabler Skiplagged credit for its resourcefulness when it comes to offering verboten flights from Southwest Airlines, but the nine-year-old startup could be playing a dangerous game.

Skiplagged had been using Kiwi.com to access flights from Southwest, which notoriously touts Southwest.com as the only place for leisure travelers to book its tickets. But with a Southwest hometown federal court in Dallas barring Kiwi from scraping Southwest and settlement talks between the airline and Kiwi under way, Skiplagged is still earning money promoting Southwest flights.

Skiplagged now enables its customers to find Southwest flights on Skiplagged.com, and then points flyers to DestinaHolidays to book them. Does DestinaHolidays scrape the Southwest website to access the flights or grab them as part of tour packages? Both methods would presumably be unauthorized. Efforts to reach DestinaHolidays for comment were unsuccessful.

So Skiplagged, founded by Aktarer Zaman in New York, seems to be staying one step ahead of the airline, which has won multiple lawsuits and issued a torrent of cease and desist letters against startups and other online travel players seeking to offer Southwest flights on their own websites. Skiplagged didn’t respond to a request to comment about its strategy.

Asked whether Skiplagged is playing with fire when it comes to Southwest, one of the biggest carriers in the U.S., Kayak CEO Steve Hafner said: “They’ve been playing cat and mouse with airlines for years. Eventually, the cat gets the mouse.”

I can see both sides of the equation.

On the one hand, I admire little Skiplagged’s audacity in standing up to the airline. It hurts consumers that Southwest’s fares aren’t showing up for comparison or booking purposes in metasearch engines such as Kayak, Google Flights or Skyscanner.

On the other hand, Southwest flights from Skiplagged via DestinaHolidays are often more expensive than on Southwest.com. A Dallas Love Field Southwest flight to Chicago O’Hare on December 13 was $20 more on DestinaHolidays than it was on Southwest.com, for example.

In addition, the airline wants to market its flights in its own style, and the scrapers aren’t equipped or authorized to do so. In fact, they can’t even use a Southwest logo because that would be trademark infringement.

Southwest offers three brands of fares, lets consumers know that they can check “two bags for the price of none,” and provides information about how many Rapid Rewards points the flight will earn. All of that marketing sizzle is absent from the scraper websites.

Southwest and Skiplagged are involved in two lawsuits over the latter’s unauthorized use of the airline’s fares in Texas and New York, and there is a pending settlement involving Southwest and Kiwi over similar matters in Texas.

Southwest noted in the New York lawsuit involving Skiplagged that with Kiwi barred in a third lawsuit in Texas from offering Southwest flights, “Skiplagged has changed tactics … and is now marketing Southwest flights in partnership with Ovago.com. Southwest asked the New York court for permission to provide additional information about Skiplagged’s partnership.

However, Skiplagged may have changed its modus operandi yet again because we only saw Skiplagged referring customers to DestinaHolidays to complete their bookings, and not Ovago.com.

For now, at least, Skiplagged seems to be burnishing a Teflon reputation because airline efforts to crush some of its activities so far haven’t stuck. Skiplagged used jurisdictional arguments to finesse its way around a United Airlines lawsuit, and so far keeps marketing Southwest flights even though longtime partner Kiwi ran into a legal brick wall.

It is difficult to see Skiplagged prevailing, though, in the long run.

In Brief

Expedia CEO on 2 Issues: Sabre and Getaroom

In an interview with Skift at site of the Phocuswright conference in Florida September 17, Expedia Group CEO Peter Kern addressed the company’s decision to downgrade its use of the Sabre global distribution system, and Booking Holdings’ acquisition of Getaroom.

  • Kern said Expedia Group opted to greatly reduce its use of Sabre’s global distribution system as part of Expedia’s efforts to simplify operations, and for the economic benefits, which will only become apparent when the travel recovery kicks in. He said Expedia will continue to use Sabre modestly, and will remain multiple GDS, meaning it will use Amadeus and Sabre.
  • Asked whether he knew that hotel wholesaler and distributor Getaroom had been up for sale, Kern said Expedia knew something was going on. He claimed Getaroom distributes wholesale rates in an unauthorized manner at times — in Kern’s words Getaroom puts “rates out into the wild.” He argued that Expedia wanted to be “the good guys,” and wasn’t keen on buying.

eDreams Odigeo Doubles Subscriber Ranks to 2 Million

While Tripadvisor had to reboot its subscription program over hotels’ rate parity concerns, eDreams Odigeo, the flights online travel agency based in Spain, saw its subscriber roster double to 2 million in the past six months. One of the key differences is eDreams is flight oriented while Tripadvisor’s membership program focuses on hotels, where rate parity concerns can be acute. Skift

Tripadvisor’s Lindsay Nelson Forced Out

Tripadvisor announced that Lindsay Nelson, its chief experience and brand officer, will be leaving her post in January, and characterized the move as a “termination of employment without cause.” Nelson played a major role in incubating Tripadvisor Plus, as did CEO Steve Kaufer, who the company announced several weeks ago will be stepping aside pending the culmination of a CEO search. Skift

Expedia Led Travel’s Search Engine Marketing Comeback

Search engine marketing in the U.S. in October produced website traffic on desktops approaching pre-pandemic levels, according to SimilarWeb data. Expedia Group outspent everyone else, and it’s all good news for Google. Skift

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Tags: Dennis' Online Travel Briefing, expedia, getaroom, kayak, kiwi, sabre, Skift Pro Columns, skiplagged, southwest, tripadvisor, united

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