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Published: Saturday, 12/25/2010

Airline, travel sites face off

CHICAGO -- Expedia Inc. is hiding pricing information for American Airlines flights on its Web site in a display of solidarity with Orbitz Worldwide Inc. of Chicago, which is enmeshed in a contract dispute with the nation's No. 3 carrier.

The online travel giants are warring with American over the airline's attempts at more control of how it sells tickets and other services.

The new contract terms sought by the Texas-based carrier would drive down its costs and impose new technology on agencies such as Orbitz and Expedia and the global clearinghouses that provide the ticket data they sell over the Internet, analysts said.

"You have to keep in mind that the online travel agencies have a lot at stake in this game," said Douglas Quinby, senior director of research at PhoCusWright Inc. "They are really trying to call American's bluff on this."

Starting this week, Expedia "adjusted" the way American flights are displayed online, pushing the carrier's logo to the far end of its search matrix, running the words "see flights" where American's lowest fares normally would appear.

"This has been done in light of both American Airlines' recent decision to prevent Orbitz from selling its inventory and a possible disruption in Expedia's ability to sell American Airlines tickets when our contract with American Airlines expires," Expedia said.

American Airlines, owned by AMR Corp. of Fort Worth pulled its inventory of tickets for American and American Eagle flights from Orbitz this week after a Cook County (Ill.) Circuit Court judge refused to grant a preliminary injunction sought by Travelport.

Orbitz' corporate parent and largest shareholder, Travelport, sought to block American from canceling its contracts with the online travel agency until the Chicago court determined whether doing so also would breach Travelport's contract agreements and cause it harm.

American is pressuring travel agencies and giant ticketing clearinghouses to use an electronic pipeline created by the airline.

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