s a nation we survived the missile
gap, the generation gap, the credibility gap and probably some
other gaps that have fallen into our own memory gap. But now the
travel profession is faced with a new gap, as ominous as any of
these. For want of a better word, we'll have to call it the cheap
According to Consumer Reports Travel Letter, this gap is getting
wider. In its latest game of hide-and-seek with that chimera known
as "the lowest fare," CRTL claimed that "it's getting harder to
find the best fares through a travel agent."
The basis of this claim appears to be that in a Consumer Reports
test, six Web sites sometimes met or beat Sabre's lowest fare for
the same itinerary, and they did so more often than they did during
a similar test two years ago.
This might be a cause for concern if the CRTL research didn't
suffer from a credibility gap of its own.
A close reading of the report shows that CRTL sorted its low-fare
search results on the basis of "viability." A viable result was
deemed to be a fare for a direct flight close to the time the
passenger actually wants to travel, without excessive circuitry or
long connecting times.
On this basis, according to CRTL's own data, Expedia bested Sabre
only 1% of the time, and Orbitz beat Sabre only 23% of the time.
But we take consumer surveys of this type with a big grain of
salt, and we're recommending an extra dose this time.
Even assuming the Web searches and Sabre queries were conducted
correctly, it would be risky to conclude that these numbers reflect
the relative performance of travel professionals compared with
typical do-it-yourself Web shoppers. Also, the margin of error
would seem to be large because the statistical sample is small. For
each of the Web sites, Consumer Reports ran fewer than 100
And even if the results are as valid as CRTL wants them to be,
do travel agents really care any more if they are not depicted in
the popular press as the "best" place to go for "the lowest"
To borrow and bend a bon mot from that noted philosopher Mike
Spinelli: "Gap, schmap."
Aid for US Airways
e'll come right out and say it:
We don't want to lose another major U.S. airline.
Consolidation in this business may be inevitable, and the
problems facing US Airways may be largely of its own making, but if
a government loan guarantee will get it back on its feet, we're for
In the normal course of events, we do not think the taxpayers
should have to pay for the mistakes of US Airways and its previous
managements. But that would be in the normal course of events.