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Wednesday, April 7, 2010 as of 11:14 AM ET

Transportation

Craig Schulz

Washington, DC

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Airline Ticket Battle Heats Up

January 6, 2011 - 5:05 PM | by: Craig Schulz

The ability of consumers to easily compare airline ticket prices may be threatened by a series of moves involving American Airlines, online travel agencies Expedia & Orbitz, and Sabre Holdings, which provides the framework by which most travel agents search airline data.

On Wednesday, Sabre announced it would cancel its contract with American a month earlier than planned, in August. It also eliminated discounts on American tickets, and moved American fares down on travel agents’ computer displays.

“We are taking these steps now because over the past months AA has taken a number of aggressive actions in an attempt to impose a costly, unproven and unnecessary system on agencies and corporations, including withholding fare content,” Sabre said in a statement.

The Sabre action is the latest salvo in a dispute that industry watchers say has been brewing for some time. It reached a new level in December when American pulled its fares off the popular online travel agency Orbitz.com. Shortly thereafter Expedia.com stopped offering customers the opportunity to book American flights.

The airline did not respond to multiple requests for comment from Fox News, but in a message e-mailed to members of its AAdvantage frequent flier program said it was “committed to working with all distribution channels.”

Whether other airlines follow American’s lead remains to be seen, though as other carriers’ contracts begin to expire some believe that’s exactly what could happen.

“All the airlines are looking at it,” said Rick Seaney, CEO of FareCompare.com. “Of course they are. The airlines want to control how they package and market their fees.”

Seaney sees this as more of a control issue than one of cost containment, and says the airlines want to “push customers to their own websites” where they have more control.

A statement from Expedia echoed that sentiment.

“American Airlines is attempting to introduce a new direct connect model that will result in higher costs and reduced transparency for consumers, making it difficult to compare American Airlines ticket prices and options with offerings by other airlines,” the company said.

“There’s some serious pushing and shoving,” said Paul Ruden of the American Society of Travel Agents. “There’s no way you can argue that the consumer comes out ahead.”