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Michael Bennett is the former Senior Producer of the Travel Channels west coast operations and is currently a travel writer for Savoy and Black Enterprise Magazine. Michael is the host of Globetrotting on BET's BET on Jazz Network. For travel question write to

Internet Fees

Shopping on the Internet is a popular activity for bargain hunters or
convenience shoppers. When it comes to travel, Travelocity, Expedia and Orbitz are among the most popular and why not? These three sites offer airfares, hotels, cruises, car rentals, package deals and more----a one-stop shopping destination.

In the wake of September 11, Orbitz has started to tack on a fee for booking flights online. The $5 fee applies to airline tickets only at this time. Orbitz, a consortium owned by several of the major air carriers including, American, Northwest and United Airlines claimed they imposed the fee to cover the cost of maintaining the Orbitz website. In fact they need to generate revenue thanks in large measure to the current recession. Don't be surprised if they start to charge for some of their other services once the consumer gets accustomed to paying this fee. When Orbitz launched last June, they billed themselves as a cheap alternative to using the other search engines because the consumer dealt directly with the airlines. All the major carriers
were really trying to do is seize market share so they wouldn't have to pay commissions to Travelocity, Expedia and travel agents. Not only have they eliminated or drastically reduced the commissions they pay to travel agents,
now they are acting as their own travel agent and charging fees that should
already be part of the cost of doing business.

If you book a ticket through Orbitz before January 14, 2002, this fee will be
waived for the first transaction only. If you make two separate purchases,
you will be billed $5 per ticket for the second transaction. After January
14, everyone pays $5 per ticket. Despite the $5 service fee, Orbitz may
still offer the best deals on airfare. Why, because you are dealing directly
with the airline rather than some third-party provider. Dealing with the
airlines directly will usually result in the lowest fares available since
they are required by law to list all published fares, not just specials or
other incentive deals. Here's a way to get around the $5 fee. Book your
reservations directly on the airlines website rather than using Orbitz or any
other Internet search engine.

Travelocity and Expedia still don't charge a fee to use their massive search
engines. The advantage to using these two Internet giants-----you can search
several air carriers at once for the best deals. The only fee currently
imposed will be for a Northwest Airlines ticket on Travelocity. Last year
Northwest stopped paying commissions to all the search engines so Travelocity
has passed on a $10 fee to the consumer, but all other carriers are still
free of charge on both search engines. Once you find something you like on
Travelocity and Expedia, go back and compare that to the price Orbitz offers
for the same ticket. Then carry it one-step further and see if the airlines
own website offers a better deal.

Orbitz isn't the only Internet travel provider to charge a service fee.
Priceline for instance charges almost $6 per ticket, charges $10 per
ticket plus a $5 processing fee. And if that's not bad enough, many of the
tickets purchased through Priceline or come with have restrictions,
like being nonrefundable and nontransferable, meaning if your plans change
you can't get your money back or transfer to a different date.

The bottom line when purchasing tickets online, you usually get the best
deals directly from the airline with the least amount of restrictions on the
ticket. Travelocity and Expedia provide convenience and comparison-shopping.
Wholesalers, consolidators or auction sites like Priceline offer great
deals, but the tickets come with heavy restrictions and could involve
multiple layovers. If your goal is to save a bundle and you are sure your
plans won't change then by all means try one of these discounters, otherwise
stick to the airlines or the big search engines. Not mentioned here is
Southwest Airlines, which doesn't belong to any Internet search engine. For
Southwest Airlines deals, go directly to their site.